Illinois’ First Minimum Wage Law


The U.S. Federal minimum wage was first implemented in 1938 under the Roosevelt administration with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLA). However, FLA did not mandate a universal minimum wage for all industries and were subject to exceptions. By the early 1970s, many state legislatures convened to address these issues by passing legislation to strengthen their labor laws and enhance social well-being. In effect, Illinois established it’s first operative minimum wage law in 1971.


The state of Illinois has administered wage standards even before the state minimum wage law in 1971. Illinois adopted the Prevailing Wage Act in 1941 which required employers to pay employees who worked on public construction projects a minimum wage. The specific minimum wage, or prevailing wage, is set by the county and must be no less than local market wage for similar work.

Lawmakers four years later then adopted the Wages of Women and Minors Act (WWMA) which prohibited employers from paying women or minorities and unfair wage. What constituted an “unfair wage” was determined by a wage board appointed by the Director of Labor were they would research wage for women and minors based on occupations. The Department of Labor would then take the research, establish and administer the fair wage rates. This process was ruled as unconstitutional in Vissering Mercantile Co. v. Annunzio (1953) by the Illinois Supreme Court.

By 1971, there was talk around the capital about implementing a statute establishing a minimum wage for the state as a work-around from WWMA. Nineteen-seventy-one was a big year across the country for labor, as 26 state legislatures across the country adopted wage improvements in some form. That same year, the General Assembly established a $1.40 minimum wage via state statute for workers 19-years and older who met the hourly standard. Employers who had less than four employees were except from the legislation. The legislation also incrementally adjusted Illinois’ rate to the Federal rate and covered some without Federal wage protection.


Since passing its first minimum wage law in 1971, the state has strengthened it over the years. Until 2004, the state minimum wage kept with the Federal minimum. Around that period, varies studies were produced that argued the then Federal minimum had lost its value and needed to be raised. In effect, the General Assembly in 2004 increased the wage to $5.50 while the Federal wage remained at $5.15. Moreover, the state’s minimum wage law over the years has enhanced benefits for tipped employees and adopted annual increases. From 2004 to 2010 the state raised the minimum wage six times. The General Assembly in 2020 also passed legislation to incrementally raise the wage to $15 by 2025. Currently, the Federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 and has not had an increase since 2009.

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