Higher Minimum Wage Would Help Immigrants, Taxpayers

Republished from The San Jose Mercury News

Millions of California immigrants work in low-wage service industries. They would be among the greatest beneficiaries of our ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour.

Latinos, many of whom come from a relatively recent immigrant background, would gain the most. The data shows that around half of all Latino wage-earners would get a pay hike, compared with one-third of non-Latinos. The average gain for a full-time Latino worker would be over $5,500 per year, a life-changing amount of money for a working-poor family.

Asian immigrants are more likely to be affluent, often employed at technology companies. But many Asians are also among the working-poor, and 400,000 low-wage Asian workers in California would directly benefit from raising our state’s minimum wage.

Almost a million blacks and non-Hispanic whites in California, both immigrant and native-born, would also get a wage hike, with their incomes rising an average of over $4,000 per year for a full-time worker.

The total economic gains for lower-wage California workers from all ethnic backgrounds would be around $15 billion per year.

Aside from benefiting working-poor families, a much higher minimum wage would help the rest of us by requiring businesses to cover the costs of their own employees rather than shifting the burden to the ordinary taxpayer.

Because some businesses in California pay their workers such low wages, the government is forced to make up the difference, spending over $35 billion each year on social welfare programs funded by everyone else. This is unfair.

Businesses should stand on their own two feet instead of relying upon billions of dollars in hidden government subsidies. All principled conservatives and free market advocates should support this simple idea. Raising the California minimum wage to $12 per hour would save American taxpayers many billions of dollars each year.

With such huge benefits of a much higher minimum wage, I was shocked to read the accusations of Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute in last Sunday’s Mercury News. He claimed my initiative was actually an attack on immigrants and denounced my motives as “despicable.” (Editor’s note: See Nowrasteh’s letter above.)

The charges are absurd. Over the past 25 years I have published 200,000 words on immigration issues, all available on my website. The news media has published hundreds of articles correctly characterizing my views as strongly “pro-immigrant.”

In 1994 I was a top featured speaker at Juan Jose Gutierrez’s historic 70,000-strong Los Angeles rally against Gov. Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187, the largest pro-immigrant political protest in American history to that date. My views have not changed much since then.

The nugget of truth behind Nowrasteh’s calumny is that I have argued that a much higher minimum wage would reduce illegal immigration.

The overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants come for jobs, and they take the jobs that Americans won’t. But the reason Americans won’t take them is that the wages are too low, and the only people willing to work at poverty wages are often recent, desperate border-crossers.

If the minimum wage were $12 per hour, many Americans and legal immigrants would apply for those positions, reducing the pressure on businesses to hire the undocumented. Indeed, former Democratic Presidential Nominee Michael Dukakis suggested several years ago that the best solution to illegal immigration was a big hike in the minimum wage.

The Washington D.C. think tank that employs Nowrasteh has traditionally advocated the abolition of all minimum wage laws and receives considerable funding from various business groups.

I am an advocate for business but also believe businesses should pay their way and not burden taxpayers. They will reap benefits in the long run from raising workers out of poverty.

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