Americans Deserve a RAISE on Labor Day

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By Ric Oberlink

Ric Oberlink is the Executive Director of CAPS

September 1, 2019

Labor Day is a time-honored celebration of American workers and their achievements — which are many. Our workforce built the American dream, which was a promise millions of Americans could rely on for decades. Go to school, find a trade, work hard, and a livable wage, modest home, and middle-class life would follow.

Sadly, that dream is slipping away for millions of Americans. Inflation has forced median household incomes to remain virtually flat for the past 20 years. In fact, asccording to the Pew Research Center, real-term average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago.

Struggling middle-class families are having to deal with home prices, school tuition, and healthcare costs that are all on the rise.

While wages may be flat, corporate profits have hit record highs and most economic indicators show a healthy economy. So why are American workers struggling? There are numerous contributing factors, but one unmistakeable reason is that a mass migration of foreign workers to the US over the past several decades has kept wages artificially low.

The total foreign-born population living in the United States has increased by over 70 percent since 1997, rising from 25.3 million to 43.4 million in 2017. Big business interests like Koch industries and the Chamber of Congress have successfully lobbied Congress for decades to maintain an immigration system that provides an endless supply of cheap labor.

 

But that could be changing. The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act) would gradually reduce immigration levels by limiting the number of green cards awarded annually to just over 500,000 from more than 1 million. The RAISE Act would also abolish the visa lottery and retain preferences for the spouses and children of U.S. residents, but eliminate preferences for extended family members.

The bill would also create a point system for factors such as education levels and job skills, helping to ensure non-citizens are not an undue burden on taxpayers; as 58 percent of all households headed by a non-citizen currently use at least one welfare program.

We know what happens when the labor market becomes equitable for American workers. Tight labor markets built the American middle class after World War II.

As we head into Labor Day weekend, we should remember that Immigration has always been a part of America’s success story. But our current immigration system has done both American workers and legal immigrants a disservice by prioritizing cheap labor for big businesses over rising wages for workers. 

The organization I lead, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) is actively urging members of Congress to support the RAISE Act to raise workers’ wages. You can get involved if you share our goal of higher wages for American workers.

A livable wage in exchange for a hard day’s work has always been part of the American dream. It’s time to get serious about an immigration policy that makes that possible.

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