Anyway, I did a little digging and found that the last time you could have legally been paid 85 cents an hour was early 1956. Since I can't find Luddy's age, I just had him working that job in 1954, then used an inflation calculator to find out what he would have been making in today's dollars. Answer? $7.25. Which happens to exactly be today's minimum wage.
And yes, I don't see why a high school student couldn't be happy with minimum wage, as they have few living expenses. Maybe they're choosing to pay for a car and gas and want to hit the movies and Taco Bell from time to time?
As for me, I remember being super happy about earning $5/hour in high school, I believe in the summer of 1989, when the minimum wage was $3.35. Interestingly, in today's dollars that ($5) would be $9.26/hour -- approximately what Obama's asking for as a minimum wage today. So like Luddy, I was happy in high school with a wage that was approximately today's minimum wage.
But could I imagine paying for an apartment, a car, car insurance, gas, food, etc. with that much money? It's not easy. At $7.25/hour for the head of a household, working 40 hours a week (average 174 working hours per month) = $1261.50. Take out about 5.5% for FICA taxes (even if they paid no other taxes) and you're around $1200/month. A cheap apartment can be half of that.
So do we need a higher minimum wage? If so, that means high school students have to be able to earn it. If not, are workers supposed to show a business they're worth more and climb above the current high school rate? What if they do so, but the business still ignores them because a lot of people are looking for work? Does the worker just count his or her blessings for having a job that can't quite pay the bills?
Now I'm not a big fan of arguing about the standard of living, and whether that cost has gone up or down. Because really, we have things today that people in 1954 simply COULDN'T buy, and as technology improves, its cost also plummets. In 1954, a simple transistor radio cost $50. Today we can listen to news, music, podcasts, etc., for free on our totally portable phones.
The question here isn't just about minimum wage. Should we raise it like we do? Every time we ask the question, there's a big argument. But here's the point: it is not the people's fault that the government has given away the right to print money, and that the Federal Reserve continues to deflate the value of money and raise the cost of living. Because of this, a business already expects ALL costs to go up over time. Why should human costs be different when people's costs at home will be going up at the same time?
And here's a second question: should there be one minimum wage for those under 18 years old, as this is more of an "apprentice" age and a business is obviously putting time into training them, which is value to the young worker; then a higher minimum wage for those 18 and older who may have to be earning a living and who are likely to stick around a business for more than just one summer? This doesn't prevent a business from paying a high school student more if they prove their worth, but does prevent them from paying a full-time head of household the rate of a student, and therefore sets a minimum standard of living.
I'm not a fan of excessive regulation, as I see the main role of government as providing for national infrastructure, international relationships, and the prevention of one party abusing another. Does minimum wage fall into this latter category?