The chart above, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, illustrates the minimum wage in 2012 dollars from its inception in 1938 to 2012. As you can see, the present minimum wage is just about trend. The low point was in 1938 when it started. Its high point in 1968.
The president is proposing to return the minimum wage to that level. The arguments in favor of doing so are the ones he’s made—the minimum wage is not a living wage. The arguments against are that the minimum wage is not intended as a living wage, the number of individuals that receive the minimum wage is very small, and many of those who earn minimum wage are young workers with low skills who aren’t trying to live on it.
The effect that raising the minimum wage would have on employment is a bone of contention—there are arguments both ways. One point that hasn’ been mentioned—the uptick in illegal immigration began just about the time that the minimum wage reached its peak. That might just be a coincidence or it might be that a higher minimum wage would incentivize a black market in labor of which illegals are a significant part.
I think it’s reasonable to speculate that the president wants to see the minimum wage play a different role than was intended and than it has historically. As I’ve said before, I’m of mixed minds on this subject. To gain my full support I’d need to believe that an increase in the minimum wage would help a lot more people than it would hurt and that it wouldn’t have much in the way of adverse unintended secondary effects. Neither of those seem to have been explored much in the discussion to date.