In Nevada, the minimum wage was traditionally set by the Legislature and, for much of the past century, was well below the federal minimum wage.
Lawmakers, who didn't appreciate competing pressures from business not to raise the minimum and labor to raise it every session, decided in 2001 to turn the responsibility over to the state labor commissioner. They reasoned that, since Nevada's minimum was pretty much overridden by the federal law, the labor commissioner should use the federal minimum wage as his guide.
The result that year was an immediate jump in Nevada's minimum wage from $3.35 - where it had been since 1993 - to $5.15 an hour.
The federal minimum set by the Fair Labor Standards Act hasn't changed since then, so neither has Nevada's.
But today most companies in Nevada can't hire people for minimum wage. They're forced by competition to pay at least $6.50 an hour, even at fast-food restaurants.
"We match the federal rate," said Deputy Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek. "But if we're doing things right, we're going to have a competitive job market and they (businesses) have to compete for workers."
He said, however, there are more minimum wage employers in rural Nevada.
Statewide, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation says the median hourly wage was $13.08 as of May this year. But that figure includes all management and professional categories such as doctors who average about $100 an hour - as well as "regular employees."
The median wage for food preparation and serving occupations such as waitresses is $8.57 an hour. That does not include tips, which many in those positions rely on as their main source of income. Personal care and service occupations in Nevada report a median wage of $8.23 an hour statewide.
All of those averages drop off outside of the Reno-Sparks, Carson City, Elko and Las Vegas areas. In DETR's totals for the balance of the state - rural Nevada - food-related occupations pay a median wage of just $6.71 an hour and personal care-service occupations $7.93 an hour.
Carson City has the state's highest median wage at $14.51 an hour. By comparison, Reno's is $13.11 and Las Vegas $13.03. The large numbers of service and food-related jobs bring the averages in those areas down. Nevada isn't alone in letting the federal government set the minimum. A total of 28 states have their minimum wage at $5.15 and another seven states set no minimum, letting it float with the federal law. With the exception of Arizona, all those states are in the deep South.
Other states have minimums higher than the federal government - the highest being $7.15 in Alaska, Connecticut and Oregon. California's minimum wage is set at $6.75 an hour.
The Fair Labor Standards Act set the first minimum wage in the U.S. in 1938 at 25 cents an hour.
The existing federal minimum was set by Congress in 1996 when it increased the minimum from $4.25 an hour to $4.75 an hour that year and ordered it increased to $5.15 effective September 1997.
While the amount has gone up numerous times over the years, when inflation is taken into account the current rate is actually lower in buying power than in the past.
In 1955, for example, the minimum wage was set at $1 an hour. According to the Consumer Price Index inflation schedule, that would be worth $6.86 an hour today.
A person living on minimum wage - $5.15 an hour - would earn a gross yearly income of $10,712.
According to the 2000 Census:
• The median household income in Carson City was $41,809.
• 1,540 individuals reported making less than $10,000.
• 1,314 individuals reported earning between $10,000 and $14,999.
• The median family income in Carson City was $49,570.
• 544 families reported earning less than $10,000.
• 499 families earned between $10,000 and $14,999.
Starting hourly wages of randomly selected Carson City businesses:
Motel housekeeper: $7 per hour
Fast-food worker: $5.50 per hour
Car washer: $5.50 per hour
Mailroom worker: $8 per hour
Casino porter: $6.50 per hour
Child care: $5.25 per hour
History of hourly minimum wage:
1938: 25 cents
1939: 30 cents
1945: 40 cents
1950: 75 cents
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/esa