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Teaching Guide

Teaching Labor, Wages & Unions

Labors and wages and unions, oh my!

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Looking for a stimulus package for your lessons on labor, wages, & unions? We have just what you need.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity graphing the equilibrium wage rate.
  • a lesson on categorizing the civilian workforce: white collar, blue collar, reality-TV star, etc.
  • discussion questions on unions and minimum wage.

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  • 4-10 activities to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
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Instructions for You

In this exercise your students will research minimum wages set by the federal government and the state, the history of these wage rates, and their relationship to poverty guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Students will then record the information they obtain on two line charts.

1. Give your students the following directions.

Research the minimum wage in your state.

  • What is the current wage?
  • When was it last raised?
  • How has it changed over the past thirty years?
  • Calculate the annual income of a minimum-wage earner in your state working fifty-two forty-hour weeks.

Research the federal minimum wage.

  • What is it currently?
  • When was it last raised?
  • How has it changed over the past thirty years?
  • Calculate the annual income of a federal minimum wage earner working fifty-two forty-hour weeks.

Go to this site, where you will find poverty guidelines dating back to 1982.

Construct a line chart illustrating the following:

  • How your state’s minimum wage has changed over the past thirty years.
  • How the federal minimum wage has changed over the past thirty years.

Construct a second line chart illustrating the following:

  • The annual earnings of a full-time minimum-wage earner in your state since 1982.
  • The annual earnings of a full-time federal minimum wage earner since 1982.
  • The changing poverty guidelines for a single person and a family of four since 1982.

Write a brief response to the following questions.

1. To what extent have state and federal minimum wage rates kept pace with the changing cost of living as measured by federal poverty guidelines? 

2. Can an individual live above the poverty guideline on the minimum wage? Has his or her ability to do so changed over the past thirty years?

3. Can a family live above the poverty guideline on one wage earner’s minimum wage? Has a family’s ability to do so changed over the past thirty years?

Instructions for Your Students

Finding a job today is tough. Especially if you are trying to break into the job market without much experience, you may find yourself qualified mostly for minimum-wage jobs. It can be a seriously painful drag to make it on a low hourly wage, but your best shot at getting through it until you climb the ladder is to know how the minimum wage works

How much do you know about the minimum wage? What is it in your state? Is it higher than the federal minimum wage? When did it last change? How much has it changed over the past thirty years? Does the minimum wage pay enough to avoid poverty? If you don’t already, you will soon know the potentially life-saving answers to these questions.

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