Minimum Wage Increase Could Be Bittersweet For Latinos

By David Martin Davies
March 21, 2013

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- President Barack Obama is pushing for an increase to the national minimum wage. If passed by Congress, the pay rate would jump from $7.25 per hour to $9.00. That jump would directly impact many in the Latino community.

Irasema Cavazos is a San Antonio home health care worker who makes more than the national minimum wage.

“It started at $8 an hour and after three years I got a raise to $8.50 an hour," Cavazos said.

And still she says paying her bills is a struggle.

“No matter how hard you work, you’re getting paid poverty wages. What do you end up with? You’re still in poverty," Cavazos said.

Mary Beth Maxwell is deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. She says people like Cavazos are living arguments in favor of giving them extra income.

“It helps the working people who get that increase, right, because they provide for their families, but it really grows our economy for everybody," Maxwell said.

And many of these workers are Latino. One in five Latinos earns minimum wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It would have a huge impact on the Latino Community. Get those dollars circulating in those communities. Where do those Latino families spend those dollars? Right in their communities," Maxwell said.

Economist Jonathan Meer of Texas A&M University says raising the minimum wage does help those in the work force, but his study predicts the wage increase would choke off new job creation.

“It makes it harder for people to get that first job, to get them that line on the resume, get that work experience, letter of recommendation, so on for better jobs," Meer said.

And opponents to the wage increase say the expected reduction in job growth because of the pay hike is also bad for Latinos trying to find work.