Increase in Minimum Wage a Win for Latino Families and Communities of Color

By Andrea Miller, Executive Director CAUSA

Over a half million Oregonians will see a raise over the next six years, thanks to a new law passed by the Oregon Legislature earlier this month. And the Oregonians most heavily impacted by this minimum wage adjustment will indisputably be Oregon’s Latino families and communities of color.

It’s no secret that Oregon’s current minimum wage is not enough to cover basic costs of living: Right now, a full-time minimum wage worker earns less than $20,000 a year, which is simply not enough to afford basic needs, like housing, child care and transportation.

What many people may not realize is how this minimum wage has directly impacted Oregon’s historically underrepresented communities. More than half a million Oregonians are working in minimum wage jobs, and these individuals are disproportionately people of color. While people of color make up 42 percent of minimum wage workers, they constitute only 32 percent of the work force. In Oregon, nearly half of our Latino and African-American workers are employed in low-wage industries.

That’s why Causa and PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union, fought hard for a minimum wage increase through Senate Bill 1532. With support from a broad coalition of small businesses, labor groups, and advocacy groups representing Oregonians at large, the Oregon Legislature worked to identify and pass a bill to increase the statewide minimum wage, with three tiered regions, by 2022.  We are so proud of our legislature for taking this important step to do the right thing.

Now, people like Maria and Cristobal, farm workers who became U.S. citizens in hopes of finding a better life for their family can finally get a long overdue raise. They’ve been working in agriculture for more than 30 years now: Fighting wildfires, planting seeds, picking berries, processing fruits and vegetables, and planting and cutting Christmas trees. You name it, they’ve done it. To date, this work has brought them a household income of $18,000 at minimum wage their entire working life. That will finally change after SB 1532 kicks in, starting July of this year.

senate bill 1532 imageAcross the state, workers will see a wage increase. Regional considerations will determine the full extent of those increases: By 2022, minimum wage workers will receive $14.75 in Portland and its surrounding urban area. Region 2 minimum wage workers will receive $13.50, and Region 3 minimum wage workers will receive $12.50 , with the first raise of $0.50/hour kicking in July 2016. And equally important to note, the minimum wage law was passed without excluding any sector of worker, including farmworkers and youth.