IN 1938, after a hard battle with the U.S. Supreme Court, Franklin Roosevelt finally got a constitutionally acceptable federal minimum wage law enacted. The Fair Labor Standards Act set 25¢ an hour as the national minimum wage, with an automatic increase to 40¢ in 1945; it also provided for time-and-a-half for overtime in a work-week gradually scaled down from 44 to 40 hours. The law covered only workers in major industries engaged in interstate commerce — it was mainly aimed at the plight of poorly paid textile workers in the South, did nothing for housemaids or migrant farm workers. Congress raised...

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