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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Poverty

Immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States

Youtube Screenshot

America needs more immigrants, but we seem determined to shoot ourselves in the foot. Before addressing that self-sabotage, permit a small digression.

In the 1980s, Venezuela was the wealthiest country in Latin America. Sitting on about 18 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, Venezuelans enjoyed higher living standards than their neighbors and seemed to have a stable democracy. Looks were deceiving. When the price of oil plummeted in the 1990s, the country was plunged into instability. In 1999, they elected a charismatic military officer, Hugo Chavez, who promised to redistribute the nation's wealth and proceeded to befriend Fidel Castro and destroy the nation's economy. He nationalized companies and farms, crushed labor unions, put opponents in prison and seized the assets of foreign oil contractors.

Chavez succumbed to cancer in 2013, but by then Venezuela was a basket case. Today, one in three Venezuelans doesn't get enough to eat, malnutrition among poor children is rife, and more than 75 percent of Venezuelans live in extreme poverty. It is the most abrupt collapse of a thriving nation not at war on record, and a cautionary tale about what can happen when people make bad political choices.

Most of the 50 immigrants Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped on Martha's Vineyard were Venezuelans who had made an arduous 2,000-mile journey. "No one leaves home," wrote poet Warsan Shire, "unless home is the mouth of a shark."

Many on the right portray illegal immigrants as criminals who are "breaking into our house" and deserve to be treated as such. Under U.S. statutes, if a migrant comes into this country, turns himself in to a border guard or other authority and asks for political asylum, he is entitled to a hearing. Asylum seekers are not "illegal" immigrants.

DeSantis didn't see suffering human beings. He saw props. He saw Fox News coverage. (Fox, unlike the governor of Massachusetts, was tipped off in advance.) And he saw the chance to show the GOP base what a jerk he could be.

The DeSantis justifiers object that border states are being flooded with illegals and that it's unjust that red states are bearing all of the burden. But the border states are not handling it alone. The federal government has spent roughly $333 billion on border security and immigration enforcement in the past 19 years, with much of it targeted on the southern border.

As for the burden of immigration, it's debatable that immigrants represent a burden at all. Many studies show that they pay more in taxes than they cost in social services and they are more likely to work, start business and seek patents than the native-born (and less likely to commit crimes).

Those who believe the propaganda that immigration is destroying America should ponder our neighbor to the north. Is Canada a hellscape? The proportion of foreign-born there is 21 percent compared to the American average of 13.7 percent.

In truth, the vast majority of would-be immigrants have done absolutely nothing wrong. It is our own laws that are the problem. We desperately need workers, yet the wait for legal immigration options is years long. People ask, "Why can't illegal immigrants wait in line?"

But there is no line. We resolutely decline to accept guest workers in large numbers, who could fill jobs and return home (without affecting voting patterns, by the way). And so the only way to gain entry is to put feet on American soil and ask for asylum.

Clearly, not all of those pleading for asylum meet the criteria (a well-founded fear of persecution), but the system is short of courts and judges and wait times for hearings are very long. Some never show up for their hearings. And so the word has gone out around the world that if you can manage to get to the United States and present yourself to a border guard, you have at least a shot of remaining in the country either because your asylum claim will be granted or you will melt into the country and avoid deportation.

We are fortunate that so many hardworking people want to come here. If we had our act together, we would reform our laws to take many more legal immigrants (who would begin the application process in their home countries) and hire more immigration judges to hear asylum claims while clarifying that only severe cases will be eligible for that status (not economic migrants). We are an aging population with a declining birth rate. Our national spirit needs the infusion of energy and dynamism that immigrants provide. And we will be thanked and strengthened by people whose lives we save.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Very few of the poorest paid workers in America have unions to advocate for them, but many have a proxy for unions: government.

The minimum wage rose in 21 states this month thanks to a combination of ballot measures passed by voters, state laws raising the minimum and automatic inflation adjusters authorized by nine legislatures. These laws set a floor, a minimum standard, of pay.

That’s not as good as it could be. Indeed, it’s a glass-less-than-half-full scenario for the lowest paid American workers in 29 states. For them, the New Year meant continuing to labor for the same old inadequate wages.

Voting out those officeholders who use their power to keep the poor impoverished, especially those who do so while claiming to be Christians, would solve this problem of favoring capital at the expense of labor. It would also save money because people with inadequate incomes use a host of social services that cost taxpayers.

The federal minimum wage increased last in 2009 thanks to legislation signed by President George W. Bush. That law authorized three consecutive annual increases. Since then, Republicans have blocked every effort to raise the minimum wage even as inflation erodes its value.

The $7.25 that took effect in 2009 is worth less than $5.50 in today’s money, the government’s official inflation calculator shows. That calculator tends to understate the effects of rising prices on the poor because they spend so much of their money on food, energy and rent.

Economy Up, Minimum Wage Down

Compare this with1969, when the nominal minimum wage was $1.60. That’s the equivalent of $12.50 today. Our country today is a vastly wealthier country with a Gross Domestic Product per person of $66,144, about three-quarters larger than in 1969. Yet the minimum wage has shrunk dramatically rather than grown in tandem with inflation, the economy or overall worker productivity as lawmakers have bit-by-bit tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors and against workers.

You can check the minimum wage in your state and what effect state law will have on future pay in a report from the Economic Policy Institute, which focuses on the poor and poorly paid workers.


Minimum Wage Workers In 21 States Got A Raise On New Year's Day

States with minimum wage increases effective January 1, 2022 by type of increase

Notes: The New York State increase took effect on December 21, 2021. Source: Economic Policy Institute

Republicans in Congress block every proposal to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim, falsely, that paying higher wages would ruin many small businesses and would mostly benefit teenagers, neither of which is even close to being true.

Studies of counties that share a border at a state line in which one side raised the minimum wage and the other didn’t find strong earnings effects and no employment effects of minimum wage increases.

Bible Belt States

Sixty percent of minimum wage workers are age 25 or older, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. The highest levels of workers being paid the minimum wage or less are found in so-called Bible Belt states, which are also among the poorest states. About 5% of workers in Louisiana and South Carolina earn the minimum wage or less as do about four percent in Mississippi.

Raising the minimum wage, numerous studies have shown, may eliminate one in 200 low-wage jobs. The increased pay to the other 199 workers would be vastly greater than the loss of that one job, increasing overall capacity to buy goods and services. That is, raising the minimum wage is a win for workers, for businesses with products and services to sell. Customers have more to spend; tax more revenue flows in and less is spent on subsidies for the poorest workers among us.

The resistance to raising the minimum wage among politicians who shout that they are Christians is especially appalling given the many teachings in testaments Old and New about paying workers what their labor is worth and the Christian obligation to sacrifice for the poor.

The Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics shows simply and eloquently why actual Christians should support a living wage to protect workers against bad employers:

Since the 13th century, Christians have urged employers to pay a just wage—not the low payment that desperate workers will accept, but the amount they would take for their labor if they were neither coerced nor deceived nor bargaining from a vastly unequal position.

Indeed, “remuneration for labor is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents,” wrote Pope Paul VI in Gaudium et Spes [the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] (1965).

By itself, this appeal is impractical, says [Prof.] Jerold Waltman. “Unless all employers are equally convinced of the rightness of paying a just wage, and all do so in fact, the unscrupulous employer wins a competitive advantage. Therefore, only a law compelling all employers to pay the just wage will level the playing field.”

Moral Duty

Consider this moral duty to pay a living wage in the context of the law on minimum wages for restaurant and bar workers. President Bill Clinton and Congress fixed the minimum wage in 1993 at $2.13. Adjusted for inflation that’s just $1.10 an hour today.

Waitstaff, busboys and the like must apply their tips to fill the gap between $2.13 and $7.25. That means that the first $5.12 in tips they collect each hour is just a subsidy to the restaurant or bar owner who pays only the federal minimum.

To get an idea of just how hard congressional Republicans are making life for the lowest-paid workers consider this: The average cost of a municipal bus to get to work and back was $3.20 – and that was in 2019. That’s an hour and a half of minimum wage restaurant work just for bus fare.