3 Ways Frances Perkins’ Legacy Impacts Equity and Compensation Today

Liz Melton
March 11, 2022

Have you’ve ever worried about working more than forty hours a week without overtime pay? What about being paid below minimum wage, working alongside a child coworker, or paying into social security?

Most of us haven’t had to worry about a single one of those things, and for that, we have Frances Perkins to thank.

During her tenure as Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, Perkins developed the policy for Social Security, passed the Fair Labor Standard Act, and coordinated relations between the government and labor unions. And although she served almost eighty years ago, the decisions she made had a lasting impact.

In this piece, we’ll explain how Frances Perkins laid the foundation of our corporate world as we know it and set the stage for us to continually challenge the status quo. Specifically, we’ll discuss how she instigated change in pay, retirement, and equity一things organizations are still struggling to uphold today.


1. Employee Compensation

Frances Perkins was one of the few politicians of her time that acknowledged the gap between workers’ wages and their ability to afford basic housing, food, and other essential amenities. She also recognized the connection between workers’ wages and their ability to stabilize the US economy. Because of the noticeable effect wages had on buying power, Perkins was able to establish maximum working hours and statutory minimum wages in the Fair Labor Standards Act一a major component of FDR’s New Deal.

Photo by Berkan Küçükgül on Unsplash

In 1938, The Fair Labor Standards Act set the minimum wage at $0.25 per hour. Although that seems unfathomable to us now, it was a start. Plus, Perkins built in safeguards like the Wage and Hour Division within the Department of Labor to enforce, and continuously reexamine, minimum wage. Her law is still a part of our US legal infrastructure today.

Where We Are Today

While the minimum wage is higher now, the need to pay for food and housing still exists, and inflation has taken its toll. Even non-minimum-wage jobs are rethinking their compensation structure. In the candidate-favored market we’re in, companies need to boost employee paychecks across the board to stay remotely competitive. But of course, just raising wages isn’t that simple. With the rise of remote work, companies have also had to reconsider their approach to location-based compensation. Newer startups don’t always have the capital to match wages other large companies are able to offer, but worry about diluting their equity.

For help learning how to attract and retain talent while ensuring fair and equitable pay for all of your employees, request a demo of Assemble today.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

At Assemble, we’ve seen organizations struggle with these issues firsthand, and that’s why we believe it’s critical to develop a compensation philosophy. When you have single source of truth for your organization’s approach to compensating employees, it’s easier to make and justify the tough decisions you’ll inevitably need to make. And with Assemble’s all-in-one platform, you can publish your compensation philosophy, design a job architecture that accurately reflects your unique organization, and create total compensation bands informed by Assemble’s proprietary market data or dataset(s) of your choice.

2. Employee Retirement Plans

Before the 1930s, there really was no such thing as retirement savings. People would squirrel away money in the hopes that one day they could use it to pay for a wedding or a nice house, if they survived long enough to enjoy those purchases. But politicians were beginning to realize there was a need for some kind of financial security to assist the the everyday worker after they retired. And so, Social Security was born.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Frances Perkins played an instrumental role in crafting the Social Security Act of 1935, instituting national unemployment benefits, elderly pensions, and welfare for the poorest Americans. As you may know, part of your paycheck automatically goes towards paying retirees, disabled people, survivors of workers who have died, and dependents of beneficiaries. Once you retire, you’ll receive the same monthly benefits. Social Security laid the groundwork for other retirement programs like 401ks and IRAs, helping us save today for our future tomorrows. 

Where We Are Today

We’re lucky that Perkins thought about retirement so many years ago, but Americans are still concerned about having enough money in the bank when they stop working. With student loan debt through the roof, employees are much more choosy about potential employers’ benefits packages. They want an employer that pays well and contributes towards their retirement.

We at Assemble identified this growing concern early, which is why our platform helps companies design a total benefits package. Our illustrative offers feature allows organizations to custom-brand their offers in a way that clearly and consistently communicates the value of total compensation, including retirement benefits. 

3. Gender and Racial Equity

Frances Perkins was limited by what she could do in terms of improving gender and racial equity among workers, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t make a lasting impression. During her years in office, she ensured that black men were accepted as participants in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and served as a prime example for the type of expertise and thoughtfulness women could bring to the world of politics as the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet. In fact, her leadership and ardent support of minority populations paved the way for many of the legal ramifications we have in place for racial and gender discrimination in the workplace.

Where We Are Today

DE&I remains a major topic of conversation in the human resources space and beyond, particularly as a result of current events. Recently, Morningstar reported that the gender pay gap widened during the pandemic, even the highest level of leadership. In 2020, women in the C-suite earned 75% of what their male counterparts took home, the widest the gender pay gap has been in nine years. At this rate, women will have to wait until 2060 to reach representation parity. And that doesn’t even begin to address the pay discrepancies when it comes to race, sexuality, and more.

Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

We have a long way to go to reach pay parity, but Assemble’s Pay Equity module enables companies to monitor DE&I and pay equity metrics in real-time. Being able to visualize your organization’s demographic representation and how it evolves over time can uncover undesirable deviations across departments and track progress towards closing those gaps. But if you use Assemble to design your organizational structure from the beginning, you can ensure your job architecture and offers are all in line with your compensation philosophy.

Carrying on the Frances Perkins Legacy

The foundation Frances Perkins built for equitable employment still holds as time passes. We at Assemble hope to honor the Frances Perkins legacy by building atop her foundation, helping employers create equitable relationships with their employees through fair compensation practices一something workplaces can no longer ignore.


With employee retention at an all-time low, organizations can’t afford to offer baseline compensation or bare minimum retirement benefits. Instead, they need to be transparent about how their packages are structured across departments, with special consideration for gender and racial equity. Assemble helps ensure everyone feels valued, no matter their background. Check out the full scope of what Assemble offers by requesting a demo today.

Liz Melton

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