Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Obama correct that minimum wage lower than during Truman presidency — for one year

The statement

The minimum wage "in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office."

President Barack Obama, Wednesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress

The ruling

The minimum wage, as written into law, has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. Here's a table that covers the years of Truman's tenure in office. We calculated the inflation-adjusted wage using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator.

YearNominal minimum wageReal minimum wage (2013 dollars)
19450.405.19
19460.404.79
19470.404.19
19480.403.88
19490.403.93
19500.757.27
19510.756.74
19520.756.61
20137.257.25
YearNominal minimum wageReal minimum wage (2013 dollars)
19450.405.19
19460.404.79
19470.404.19
19480.403.88
19490.403.93
19500.757.27
19510.756.74
19520.756.61
20137.257.25

So in 1950 — which was during Truman's time in office — the inflation-adjusted minimum wage was $7.27, which is higher than today's minimum wage. Two cents more isn't a lot, but it's enough to give some credibility to the president's claim.

We should add, however, that 1950 was the exception. That was the year the minimum wage was raised — indeed, it was nearly doubled. And with each subsequent year, inflation ate away at the wage's purchasing power.

Ultimately, during seven out of the eight calendar years when Truman was in office, the inflation-adjusted minimum wage was lower than it is today, not higher.

Does that matter? It's a judgment call.

"The point wasn't to isolate the eight years of Truman presidency, but the fact that we're back at the same level as it was in 1950," said Bobby Whithorne, a White House spokesman.

Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, agreed.

"A lawyer defending the president's wording would add that the president did not say the current minimum wage is lower than it was in every single year of President Truman's tenure in office," Burtless said. "Some of President Obama's listeners would no doubt be stunned to (learn) that the purchasing power of the current minimum wage is below its purchasing power in any year of the Truman administration, even if the difference is only 2 cents per hour."

So Obama is correct for 1950, but incorrect for the other seven calendar years of Truman's tenure. In fact, you could just as easily say that the minimum wage is higher today than it was under Truman, and that would be correct for seven out of the eight years he was in office. The statement is partly accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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