Minimum wage has not kept pace with how much things cost

The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, dating back to 1938. Domenico Montanaro

Today's minimum wage is on par with what it has been, adjusted for inflation, over the last 20 years. But the flattening of the minimum wage is part of a generational decline.

In short, as fast-food workers protest their wages today across the country and urge a minimum-wage increase, public policy has not kept up with how much things cost.

The minimum wage peaked in 1968. Even though it was just $1.60, it had the buying power today of $10.74. But from then on, despite the raw minimum wage being increased 14 times, it has not kept pace with inflation.

Someone working full time - 40 hours a week - at the minimum wage today of $7.25 an hour, would make just $15,080 for the year.

In his State of the Union in February, President Obama called for a minimum-wage hike to $9 an hour, declaring, "Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty."

The government considers any individual making less than $11,490 a year to be in poverty. A single mother supporting two children, however, would be considered poor if she made less than $19,350 a year, certainly below the minimum wage.

Even at $9 an hour, she would only make $18,720 for the year.

The minimum wage back to its federally mandated inception in 1938 side by side with what that amount would be in 2013 terms. Domenico Montanaro