The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931: History, Summary & Requirements

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson summarizes the history of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 and explores the general and specific requirements as stipulated by law.

Davis-Bacon Act of 1931

Did you know that, before minimum wage was codified into law, another form of wage protection existed for some U.S. workers?

It's true. This wage protection was enforced by the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. In this lesson, you'll learn why it was enacted, why it wasn't a true minimum wage, and which workers were protected under the law.

History and Summary

It's 1929. The roaring 20s are about to come to a crashing end. October 1929 hit the U.S. hard as the stock market crashed and signaled the beginning of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in United States history.

If you know anything about the Great Depression, it's that countless people were left jobless and destitute. Under such terrible conditions, many were willing to work for essentially next to nothing just so they could have something to eat for themselves and for their families.

Why would they work for almost nothing? You should know that, back then, the U.S. had barely any social safety net. People had no choice but to do so.

But work, any work, was hard to find, and this forced many people to move around the country in hopes of landing a job. These poor internal migrants were willing to work for wages that were pretty low. Consequently, local wage rates plummeted upon their arrival.

In order to put in place a quasi-minimum wage, a local wage floor of sorts, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. The law was signed and enacted by then president Herbert Hoover.

Requirements

Generally

So what exactly does the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 actually stipulate?

Well, remember that this wasn't a true minimum wage. The concept of an actual minimum wage wouldn't be signed into law until a few years later.

Instead, the Davis-Bacon Act was meant to protect local community wage rates but not national wage rates. Furthermore, these wage rates protections were only for workers of federally funded projects, not workers across the board.

In essence, the Davis-Bacon Act ensured that employees who were working on public works projects would be given a wage that was appropriate for the local community. What was that wage? It was set at each community's prevailing wage, which can roughly be seen as the average wage paid to similar workers of a similar occupation.

Specifically

More specifically, the Davis-Bacon Act applied to contractors and subcontractors working on federal, or District of Columbia, contracts that exceeded $2,000. These contracts had to be for the construction, change, or repair of public buildings or works. This included even basics things like painting or decorations.

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