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** “A General Accounting Office study published in 1981 demonstrated that over a 28-year period (the period of time it takes for the calendar to repeat itself) there are, on average, 2,087 work hours per calendar year. This average results from the fact that there are usually 4 years with 262 workdays (2,096 hours), 17 years with 261 workdays (2,088 hours), and 7 years with 260 workdays (2,080 hours). The 2,087 divisor is derived from the following formula: (2,096 hours*4 years) + (2,088 hours*17 years) + (2,080 hours*7 years) / 28 years = 2,087.143 hours. Using 2,087 as the average number of work hours in a calendar year reasonably accommodates the year-to-year fluctuations in work hours.”

Source. United States. Office of Personnel Management. “Fact Sheet: Computing Hourly Rates of Pay Using the 2,087-Hour Divisor.” Policy. Pay & Leave. Web. 22 June 2014.
slave wages
Franklin D. Roosevelt

32 U.S. President

In 1993, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) prepared a report for U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada entitled, Prisoner Labor: Perspectives on Paying the Federal Minimum Wage. The results of the GAO's investigation found that:

“If the prison systems…were required to pay minimum wage to their inmate workers and did so without reducing the number of inmate hours worked, they would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more each year for inmate labor. Consequently, these prison systems generally regarded minimum wage for prisoner work as unaffordable, even if substantial user fees (e.g., charges for room and board) were imposed on the inmates" (United, GAO).

When this GAO report was written in 1993, the BOP had approximately 90,000 prisoners (Gilliard). UNICOR employs approximately 16% of all prison labor (United, "Custody"),  which includes all “sentenced inmates who are physically and mentally able to work are required to participate in the work program" (United, "Inmate").  Making the number of UNICOR employees BOP wide approximately 14,400. So, in 1993 the GAO found paying the minimum wage to prisoners would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars more each year for inmate labor,” and according to the report - unaffordable.
In 2013, the BOP prisoner population was over 219,000 (James).  Of these prisoners, approximately 35,000 (16% of total population) worked for UNICOR at the wages found on this page. “The scheduled work day for an inmate in a federal institution ordinarily consists of a minimum of seven hours" (United, "Inmate").  However, a normal calculation for establishing how many hours a federal employee works per year is the 2,087-hour divisor.**  If there are 35,000 prisoners who each work 2,087 hours a year, then the total hours per year of prisoner labor utilized by UNICOR is approximately 73 million labor hours.
Using the minimum wage of $7.25/Hour, UNICOR would have to pay over $500 million in wages instead of the $4,290,000 it paid in 2013, which doesn't include the BOP institutional and maintenance workers who make up the other 84% and are currently paid in compensation according to the UNICOR pay scale shown on this page. These over 180,000 prisoners all have to work as well, but have not been hired by UNICOR. If each of these prisoners received a minimum wage of $7.25, the amount the BOP would have to pay in 2013 (for approximately 375 million labor hours) is over $2.7 billion. And add to that the UNICOR minimum wages of $500 million, the BOP would have to pay approximately $3.3 billion in federal minimum wages in 2013.

Senator Reid's GAO report on federal minimum wage for prisoner labor looked not only at the federal prisons, but the state prisons as well. In 1993, the population of state prisoners in the United States was approximately 830,000 (Gilliard).  At year-end of 2012, the state prisoner population in the United States was approximately 1,267,000 (Glaze).

If just 1 million state prisoners in 2012 worked the standard 2,087 hours a year, the combined cost to the states in federal minimum wages for prisoners would be over $15 billion for one-year of prisoner labor, making the total of expected expenditure for prison labor, in both federal (216,000 - federal prison population for 2012 (Glaze)) and state (1 million) prisoners, paid at a federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, approximately $18 billion/year for 2012 prisoner labor in the United States. Which as the 1993 GAO report stated was, and still is - unaffordable.

In 1993, the GAO argued that raising, or instituting the Federal Minimum Wage in American prisons was - unaffordable.

(There is no mention of the moral considerations of how prisoners ought to be treated in the 1993 GAO report to Senator Reid. Instead, human beings were only discussed as units of labor at the absolute whim of the BOP and the state and private correctional industrial complexes that utilized that labor). 

However, the private corporate sector cannot simply say the minimum wage is unaffordable; instead, they must abide by the law set forth in the FLSA. As an example, the McDonald's Corporation cannot argue that raising the minimum wage will hurt its business; they must conform or disappear from the American market.

But UNICOR is a corporation owned and operated by the United States itself and, as such, is not bound by the principles that created the FLSA in 1938. The American ideals of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not exist on American prison yards, which makes sense because those prisoners are duly convicted slaves of the states - and as such are lucky to be getting paid at all.

Except, it is not morally right to subject human beings to slave labor.


Works cited

Gilliard, Darrell, and Allen Beck. United States. Dept. of Justice. Prisoners in 1993. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bulletin. NCJ-147036. June 1994. Web. 22 June 2014.

Glaze, Lauren, and Erinn Herberman. United States. Dept. of Justice. Correctional Populations in the United States, 2012. NCJ 243936. Dec. 2013. Web. 23 June 2014.

James, Nathan. United States. Library of Congress. The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Overview, Policy Changes, Issues and Options. Congressional Research Service. R42937. 15 May 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

United States. Dept. of Justice. “Custody & Care.” UNICOR. Inmates. Web. 22 June 2014.

United States. Dept. of Justice. “Inmate Work and Performance Pay.” Program Statement, CDP 5251.06. 1 Oct. 2008. Web. 22 June 2014.

United States. GAO. Prison Labor: Perspectives on Paying the Federal Minimum Wage. Report to U.S. Senator Harry Reid. GAO-93-98. May 1993. 19. Web. 20 June 2014.
wages of sin
The Federal Minimum Wage was established by the inaction of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).

The discussion on the Federal Minimum Wage is as contentious today as it was when the Act was first introduced. In November of 2013, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737), which would amend the FLSA to:

“Increase the federal minimum wage for employees to: (1) $8.20 an hour beginning on the first day of the sixth month after the enactment of this Act, (2) $9.15 an hour beginning one year after the date of such initial increase, (3) $10.10 an hour beginning two years after such date, and (4) the amount determined by the Secretary of Labor (based on increases in the Consumer Price Index) beginning three years after such date and annually thereafter" (United, 113th Cong.).

Primarily, the opposition to raising the minimum wage comes from Republicans and centers on three main arguments against raising wages: reduces employment, does not reduce poverty, and increases prices (Wilson).

However, “broadly speaking, there is not universal consensus on the causal relationship between changes in minimum wage and other economic outcomes" (Bradley).

And just as today, the adoption of a minimum wage in 1938 was a battle of political and economic opinion. FDR had, since his first inaugural address (Roosevelt, "Inaugural),  pressed the issues of social welfare that constituted the New Deal (Leuchtenburg).

“In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By 'business' I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living" (Roosevelt, "Statement").

However, this common sense approach to the welfare of the country did not come without significant opposition.

Opponents of the Act saw the end result of such legislation as the beginning “to a 'tyrannical industrial dictatorship.' They said New Deal rhetoric, like 'the smoke screen of the cuttle fish,' diverted attention from what amounted to socialist planning. Prosperity, they insisted, depended on the 'genius' of American business, but how could business 'find any time left to provide jobs if we are to persist in loading upon it these everlastingly multiplying governmental mandates and delivering it to the mercies of multiplying and hampering Federal bureaucracy?'” (Grossman).

In 1938 America, it was a revolutionary concept to have the government dictate to private business what wages in the United States must be. Even members of FDR's own Democratic Party formed conservative coalitions against the FLSA. Primarily, the Democratic opposition “of the early New Deal coalition and the realignment within the Democratic Party resulted from a variety of issues (including relief spending, farm programs, and civil rights) that caused representatives from traditionally loyal Democratic districts to oppose the New Deal" (Fleck).
The Southern Democrats in the U.S. Congress were driven by business and industry in their districts that opposed broad social welfare reform. Instead of being altruistic to their constituents, these legislators sided with a small percentage of special interests instead of what was morally right. As FDR said, “no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country" (Roosevelt, "Statement").

FDR's statement on the minimum wage is difficult to argue with. However, it is ironic that the president who so passionately fought for the economically inferior was the same man who created UNICOR in 1934.

According to the “CPI Inflation Calculator" (United, "CPI"),  the wages paid today, 75 years later by UNICOR, are still lower than the federal minimum wage in 1938 (The minimum wage in 1938 was .25/Hour, which is $4.22/Hour in 2014 dollars using the “CPI Inflation Calculator," - Compared to the UNICOR wage scale below). Another indication of what the Virginia Commonwealth codified in 1871, six years after the 13th Amendment was ratified - prisoners are slaves of the state.

Works cited

Bradley, David. United States. Library of Congress. The Federal Minimum Wage: In Brief. Congressional Research Service. 7-5000. 30 May 2013. 5. Web. 21 June 2014.

Fleck, Robert. “Democratic Opposition to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.” The Journal of Economic History. 62, 1. Cambridge University Press. Mar. 2002. 48 (footnote 59). Print.

Grossman, Jonathan. United States. Dept. of Labor. “Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: Maximum Struggle for a Minimum Wage.” Monthly Labor Review. June 1978. Web. 21 June 2014.

Leuchtenburg, William. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). Print.

Roosevelt, Franklin. “Inaugural Address.” 4 Mar. 1933. The American Presidency Project. Web. 21 June 2014.

Roosevelt, Franklin. “Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act” 16 June 1933. The American Presidency Project. Web. 21 June 2014.

United States. 113th Congress. “Bill Summary & Status.” S. 1737, Minimum Wage Fairness Act. Introduced 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 June 2014.

United States. Dept. of Labor. “CPI Inflation Calculator.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject. Web. 21 June 2014.

Wilson, Mark. The Negative Effects of Minimum Wage Laws. Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. Sept. 2012. Web. 21 June 2014.
Fair Labor Standards Act