Commentary by Richard Troxell, Austin, TX
Immigrant workers are pouring across the southern border but not our northern border. This is because the economy to the North relative to ours. People streaming across the southern border are willing to leave their homeland, to sleep eight people in a room, leave their homes for as long as eight years, and send 85% of the wage they earn back to la familia.
When the immigration demonstrations began here in early April, every flag we saw was Mexican. Hearing the anxiety that this caused for North Americans, the flags were quickly exchanged for the Stars and Stripes. But the sentiment was clear; the homeland is Mexico. All surveys show that the vast majority of migrant workers intend to come here for a short period of time, earn as much money as possible and return home to their families as quickly as possible. But as the years roll by, workers become desperate to be with their families, so they send for them at great expense, person risk and even death.
President Bush says that the undocumented workers come to do work that workers in the United States don’t want and won’t do. This is true. Workers don’t want those backbreaking jobs at the wage that is being offered. According to several US Conference of Mayors Reports, it is a wage that won’t enable a full time, minimum wage worker the ability to rent a basic apartment anywhere in the US. So what is the incentive to work a full time, 40 hour a week job if it still leaves a person homeless and unable to afford basic housing? According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 3.5 million people will face homelessness this year. The government says that 42% of these people are still working at some point during the week. Obviously, the work ethic is there, but the wage is not. These workers come from the pool of 10,000,000 minimum wage workers and the pool of 12,000,000 immigrant workers. This is a significant portion of our core workforce doing work that can’t be out-sourced.
That federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Imagine working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks, earning only $10,700, and still not being able to afford basic rental housing. As Oprah Winfrey observed recently, you can’t just raise the minimum wage one or two dollars to expect to make any difference. Six or seven dollars an hour still won’t house anyone in our most expensive cities. And to raise it anymore than that would destroy small businesses in rural America. We can’t have that. So what do we do?
We have come up a pragmatic solution. We fix the federal minimum wage. Using existing government guidelines, we have created a formula that links the wage to the local cost of housing and ensures that anyone working a forty hour week will be able to afford basic rental housing wherever that work is done throughout the United States. We believe, that upon passage, this can end homelessness for at least 1,000.000 minimum wage workers, stabilize small business by reducing their employee turn over and reduce the subsequent retaining costs almost to zero. But won’t this turn over and reduce the subsequent retaining costs almost to zero. But what we have learned is – it is not our culture that draws these workers; it is our dollars. Once we embrace the moral tenet that a wage must afford a worker basic rental housing, other countries will follow suit. They will set their own standards. And when they do, when people can afford the basics of food, clothing shelter, and have access to health care, they will remain at home with la familia.
Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio June 2006 – Issue 76