The Fight for a Living Wage
Posted on 06/07/2016 @ 12:45 AM
Photo Credit: Fight for $15
By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern
California and New York passed legislation in March to increase their respective minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour by yearly increments, a move that could see big economic gains and more purchasing power for Latinos.
The “Fight for 15” in these states brings a conclusion to a four-year campaign that will give nearly nine million people in California and New York greater economic security, but when we take a closer look at the numbers, Latinos in particular stand to gain significantly from these wage increases.
Both states carry huge Latino populations. Latinos in New York represent 18.6 percent of the population and nearly 40 percent of the population in California , according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The real impact of the wage hike is twofold when we consider which jobs Latino New Yorkers and Californians work in the most.
Disproportionate Amount of Latinos Depend on Minimum Wage Jobs
We tend to think of minimum wage workers as young teenagers putting themselves through school by working part-time at a fast food restaurant, but numbers show that older workers and a greater diversity of jobs, such as housekeepers and home healthcare workers, are increasingly included in the mix. More than one-third of minimum wage jobs are held by people ages 30-54, meaning that many depend on their low-paying jobs to provide for their families and are often employed in these jobs over a long period of time.
A closer look also shows that Latinos disproportionately hold these jobs. In fact, nearly a quarter of Latinos would benefit from an increase in minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Although Latinos make up about 16 percent of the labor force, they account for more than 70 percent of farm workers, 43 percent of ground/maintenance and construction workers, and 43 percent of maids and house cleaners. The home care worker industry, which is 21 percent Latino, pays less than 10 dollars an hour on average.
The fast food chain business is one of the biggest employers of minimum wage jobs, and also one of the largest Latino employers, making up 20 percent of the workforce nationwide. In New York alone, 17 percent of Hispanics work in fast food restaurants, according to the state’s Department of Labor.
A big reason why Latinos disproportionately take up minimum wage jobs is rooted in the lack of representation of the population in other institutions, primarily education. Hispanics are twice as likely to drop out of high school than earn a bachelor’s degree, which only reinforces the status quo of a racially-divided workforce. The cost of higher education also adds to the financial pressures already faced by Latinos, making it even more difficult for Latinos to receive an education.
Because many minimum wage jobs do not provide sick days, health coverage, or retirement plans, increasing the earnings for these workers can make a huge difference for Latinos supporting families as the cost of living rises each year.
Price of Living Proving Costly for Low-Income Latinos
Latinos in New York and California live in some of the state’s most densely populated and expensive areas.
Metropolitan cities like San Francisco with culturally rich Latino neighborhoods are facing gentrification as increasing housing prices force many Hispanics out. Because buying a home is so expensive in California, many opt to rent and spend 36 percent of their income on housing. In Los Angeles County, renters spend more than half their income (58.5 percent) on housing. Only New York has a worse homeownership rate than California.
Housing crises occurring in Latino neighborhoods in cities are creating a huge problem for Latinos living paycheck-to-paycheck, and a wage increase can alleviate some of the financial burden for many of these Latino families.
The critiques against increasing the minimum wage compromises everything from loss of business revenue to increases of prices; however, study after study shows that increasing the federal minimum wage will lift many people above the poverty line and drive money into the economy.
Millions of Latinos across the country live in poverty and work low-paying jobs, an unsustainable model in today’s economy. Although the increase in the federal minimum wage has become an intense social and political matter, increasing pay will ensure the livelihoods of Latinos and improve the standard of living for millions more.
Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.