WASHINGTON - May 5 - The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) joins millions of people in celebrating Cinco de Mayo, a day to honor Mexican culture and heritage.
"On this day in 1862, the Mexican army handed the invading French army a stinging defeat, but today many people of Mexican descent are struggling to defeat another type of challenge: poverty," said Deborah Cutler-Ortiz, Director of the Family Income Division at CDF. "So while we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, people should not forget the financial hardships endured by millions of those of Mexican heritage and ask themselves why Americathe world's richest nationdoes not help lift these families, and others like them, out of poverty. The U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration can begin that process by increasing the minimum wage."
In 2002, nearly four million children were among the approximately 8.6 million Latinos who lived below the poverty line in the United States. According to CDF research, children of Mexican heritage account for 2.8 million or 73 percent of the Latino children living in poverty. The poverty rate for children of Mexican heritage is 29.4 percent, the second highest rate among all groups of Latino children.
The unemployment rate in March 2004 was higher for Latinos (7.4 percent) than it was for Whites (5.1 percent). In addition, the proportion of Latino families with at least one unemployed member in an average week in 2003 was 11.1 percent as compared to 7.1 percent of White families, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In general, employed Latinos earn less than White workers; the median household income for Latino families ($33,946) is notably lower than the median income for White households ($47,194).
Most troubling is the overrepresentation of Latino workers in low wage jobs; many work for minimum wage in jobs with few or no benefits. It has been seven years since the minimum wage was last increased. However, Congress currently has an opportunity to support these families. The Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 2370), which was introduced last week in the Senate, would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.00 per hour. Latino workers would stand to benefit in large numbers from this proposal. While Latinos make up only 13 percent of the total workforce, they constitute 19 percent of those who would directly benefit from the proposed minimum wage increase, according to an unpublished analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
"Twenty-four million or 9 percent of U.S. residents are now of Mexican ancestry," said Cutler-Ortiz. "This group accounts for 60 percent of U.S. residents of Latino origin and represents an indispensable component of the American labor market. The high poverty rate among children of Mexican heritage demands that Congress act. Increasing the minimum wage, while not a cure-all, is a crucial first step. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would enable 1.4 million Latino workers to better provide for their families and help to lift their children out of poverty."