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Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Minimum Wage: Women & Eugenics

In my Constitution and the Economy class we recently studied the first Supreme Court opinion regarding the imposition of a minimum wage for women. The Court's opinion was that the law was unconstitutional (later to be overturned). Students were quite interested to read in the opinion that the legislature's concern was to protect the "health and morals" of women, as well to learn that the legislature sought to use the minimum wage to protect the future of the "race." But the context for the legislation was not very clear from the opinion.

Alex Taborrok notes a paper by Tim Leonard that probably provides the context:
"It's no surprise that progressives at the turn of the twentieth century supported minimum wages and restrictions on working hours and conditions. Isn't this what it means to be a progressive? Indeed, but what is more surprising is why the progressives advocated these laws. A first clue is that many advocated labor legislation 'for women and for women only.'

Progressives, including Richard Ely, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, the Webbs in England etc., were interested not in protecting women but in protecting men and the race. Their goal was to get women back into the home, where they belonged, instead of abandoning their eugenic duties and competing with men for work.

Unlike today's progressives, the originals understood that minimum wages for women would put women out of work - that was the point and the more unemployment of women the better! "
Isn't it interesting that the constitutional jurisprudence that was created to support the constitutionality of the minimum wage we have today was erected on the foundation of an effort intended to keep women in the home and out of the labor force?

Would anyone like to return to the constitutional foundations and decide that the first Court opinion was indeed correct and it is unconstitutional to impose minimum wages?

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