The following is a guest post from Working America member Israel Chavez from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
One in five Latinos is paid the minimum wage, and nationally 33 percent of Latinos live in poverty, the second highest racial/ethnic group. This means an increase in the federal minimum wage would directly affect the quality of life for Latinos families across the country and especially in poor states like New Mexico.
Raising the minimum wage to a level that would allow families to adequately provide would alleviate strains these families experience under the current wage.
What we need is a wage that allows people to live decently and is tied to the cost of living.
In Albuquerque, 66 percent of voters supported a raised minimum wage that is indexed to inflation, meaning it will automatically increase as the cost of living goes up. This is often interpreted as an automatic “raise” but that is just false. Indexing wages simply means that as the prices of necessary goods increases, like milk, gasoline, and clothing, minimum wage will be able to keep up.
All too frequently, those who oppose raising the minimum wage have never had support a family on it. It is a matter of dignity and fair pay for work that is performed. Wages are not a handout but hard earned money by deserving people. Policies that allow families to adequately support themselves impacts the whole community positively.
Today, those who would oppose increasing the minimum wage claim that it would devastate the economy, stating that it would increase prices of goods and hurt workers even more. However, studies show that as the value of minimum wage decreases, inflation continues to increase.
All the while, gross domestic product of the United States, with minor exception of the recession, has continued to rise. As the buying power of low wage workers decreases, year after year corporations lobby to keep the minimum wage low in order to continually grow profits on the backs of America’s lowest paid employees.
A lot of people claim it’s only young people that make the minimum wage. Only about 12 percent of minimum wage workers are younger than 20 years old. But claiming only young people make minimum wage just reinforces the argument that Latinos need this increase. In the U.S., Hispanics are younger than the rest of the population, with a median age of 27 years, significantly younger than the rest of the population which is 37 years. In truth, raising the minimum wage will provide a boost to all Latino workers, young and old alike.
The New Mexico House and Senate passed an increase in the minimum wage, but Gov. Susanna Martinez vetoed the bill. In Albuquerque, Mayor Richard Berry and members of the City Council have tried various maneuvers to slow or weaken implementation of the new minimum wage. But Working America is fighting to raise the minimum wage: it’s good for Latino workers, it’s good for small businesses, and above all, it’s the right thing to do.