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Education World Lesson Resource Roundup: 

Minimum Wage

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news recently, you’ve likely heard the buzz around minimum wage in the United States.  State-by-state, worker protests and demonstrations argue the benefits and challenges around potentially raising the minimum wage for employees across the nation.  The debate garnered even more attention following President Barack Obama’s call for minimum wage increases during his 2014 State of the Union Address.

Surely, few would complain about having a little more money in their own pocket.  However, there’s a much larger argument at hand.  And to truly understand the argument, one needs to understand the history of minimum wage, some basic economic concepts, as well as the major points being shared by the pundits.  Today, Education World offers a solid roundup of resources to get students discussing the many complexities of the minimum wage debate in our country. 

Building Prior Knowledge:  The History of Minimum Wage

The actual idea of the government regulating workers’ wages traces back to England’s 1349 “Ordinance of Labourers”, when King Edward III set a maximum wage law.  In time, amendments to these laws led to the establishment of a living wage, fixed to the general price of food, which in turn ushered in the necessity of a minimum wage.  The United States minimum wage story begins in Massachusetts in 1912, where a commission first recommended discretionary minimum wages for women and children. 

However, nearly every attempt at establishing such wages has come under fire and intense scrutiny.  Two years after the National Industrial Recovery act of 1933’s attempt to establish the first national minimum wage, the United States Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States).  When the Fair Labor Standards Act re-instituted it in 1938, it was again immediately challenged in the United States v. Darby Lumber Co. case of 1941.  However, this time, the minimum wage and the Fair Labor Standards Act was upheld, initiating a highly-debated history of wage discussion on the political front.  Today, the federal government sets a minimum wage, which some states meet, and some states choose to exceed.  The video below, put together by TIME magazine provides a fascinating overview of the history of minimum wage and its evolution over time:

Students who are familiar with vlogger Hank Green and his brother young adult literature author/vlogger John Green might be interested in watching one of their popular YouTube Channels, CrashCourse.  Below, CrashCourse tries to create context for the minimum wage and other economic concepts in a student-friendly manner:

Differentiating Minimum Wage With NewsELA

NewsELA allows teachers to access differentiated texts for the modern heterogeneous classroom.  NewsELA allows students to access current events articles (updated daily), and choose the reading Lexile level that is most appropriate for them. Due to the recent rhetoric around wages, NewsELA has a lot of engaging content on the matter.  Note:  You will need a NewsELA account to access the content below.

The Associated Press discusses California’s fight for $15.  This piece does a great job at outlining the general pros and cons of wage raise.

The Los Angeles Times also creates a nice profile of the issues, discussing worker need, as well as some predicted complications with raising wages.

The Washington Post points out the mysterious absence of the subject of minimum wage in the current Democratic presidential primaries.

The Kansas City Star notes how attention on the pertinent issue of wage theft has stemmed from the larger discussion around minimum wage.

The Associated Press examines the President’s arguments about income equality during the aforementioned 2014 State of the Union Address.


Remember, non-fiction texts come in a variety formats.  Common Core reading skills apply to both the written word and a wide range of visual layouts.  Infographics are a great way for students to visualize otherwise complex pieces of data, not to mention analyzing how they are related to each other.  Check out some of the interesting ways minimum wage data has been compiled on the following infographics:

Who’s Helped By Raising the Minimum Wage? 

Portrait of a Minimum Wage Worker

Minutes of Minimum Wage Work to Buy A Big Mac

All Employers:  If the Minimum Wage Was Increased to $10.10, Would You..?  

How Will the Minimum Wage Increase Affect the Economy?

Final Note:  The key here, across the board, is providing a balanced argument.  This is a hotly-debated issue and be sure to allow students to formulate their own conclusions on the data provided.  The resources above represent only the tiniest sample of how rich this discussion could be in the classroom.  Have fun, challenge all assumptions, and encourage inquiry!

Compiled by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.