Americans deserve a raise, but a number of obstacles stand between our poorest workers and a bigger paycheck.
First, Americans have to compete for jobs against millions of illegal immigrants. This competition lowers wages for some and shuts others out of work altogether.
Second, Congress hasn’t increased the federal minimum wage in more than 10 years, when it was raised to $7.25 an hour. Inflation has since eroded the value of that wage by almost 25%, so Americans working full time at a minimum-wage job can buy less with their paycheck today than they could a decade ago.
Third, many Democrats are hung up on an unserious scheme to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Their plan doesn’t have the votes to pass, and even if it did, a $15 minimum wage would destroy 1.4 million jobs, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). To make matters worse, some of the gains from this higher minimum wage would go to illegal immigrants working in jobs that would have otherwise gone to Americans and other legal workers.
Thankfully, Americans do not need to choose between the Democrats’ destructive proposal and the status quo. Our bill, the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour over time and make sure all the gains go to legal workers, not illegal immigrants.
Our bill would protect jobs for American workers by requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure that businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants. Businesses already use E-Verify millions of times each year, but participation is voluntary in most states. Our bill would make E-Verify mandatory for all new hires, while strengthening penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants.
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Mandatory E-Verify would boost the job prospects and wages of American citizens by drying up the black market for illegal laborers. American workers in blue-collar jobs like construction and agriculture stand to gain the most from this reform.
Our bill would also gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, starting one year after the official end of the pandemic. This would restore the minimum wage close to its historic, inflation-adjusted peak purchasing power of $10.54 in 1968, when economic growth was running at almost 5% per year and unemployment hovered around 3%. Our bill would also help young people enter the labor market by raising the youth minimum wage from $4.25 to $6 an hour. It also would preserve the special minimum wages for people with disabilities employed by sheltered workshops.
Higher minimum wages would phase in over a period of five years for most businesses and would phase in at an even slower period of six years for the smallest businesses – those with 20 employees or fewer – in order to give them more time to adjust to the new wage floor.
This careful approach to the minimum wage would boost the paychecks of approximately 3.5 million workers while having "virtually no effect" on the number of available jobs.
Once the minimum wage reaches $10 an hour, it would increase automatically every two years based on inflation, with the scheduled increase calculated according to the Chained Consumer Price Index and publicized by the Department of Labor one year in advance. Adjusting the minimum wage for inflation would protect the purchasing power of our country’s poorest workers. It also would eliminate congressional debates every few years about whether and how to increase the minimum wage, which creates paralyzing uncertainty for workers and businesses alike.
This careful approach to the minimum wage would boost the paychecks of approximately 3.5 million workers while having "virtually no effect" on the number of available jobs, according to the CBO. We believe Americans would gain jobs on net from our proposal, as citizens and other legal workers pick up some jobs that otherwise would have gone to illegal immigrants.
America has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but for years Congress has allowed the pay of our poorest workers to be eroded by competition from illegal immigrants and skyrocketing cost of living. With this bill, we have a chance to correct both these failures.
We invite our Republican and Democratic colleagues to join this compromise proposal to give a long-overdue raise to American workers.
Republican Mitt Romney represents Utah in the United States Senate.