The Unfinished March Toward a Decent Minimum Wage

Immediately after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bayard Rustin, deputy director of the march, read off the marchers’ demands.

As they did after each demand was read aloud, the crowd roared its approval when Rustin proclaimed, "We demand that there be an increase in the national minimum wage so that men may live in dignity."

The demand for a higher minimum wage was part of a package of demands seeking economic justice for workers through government intervention in the labor market. At the time of the march about half of all blacks lived in poverty. Due to discrimination in the labor market and the educational system, blacks were heavily concentrated in many of the lowest-paid occupations. An increase in the minimum wage, along with the other march demands, had the potential to lift a large share of the black population out of poverty. [Read more]