Do immigrant workers win big from a $15 minimum wage?

California has enacted a phased introduction of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Is this law especially helpful for immigrant workers, who are disproportionately represented among low-wage workers?

The Golden state’s employed workforce of 18 million is 34% foreign-born, compared to employment nationwide which is 16% foreign born. An estimated 2 million-plus workers in California are undocumented. Median household income figures (for the entire country) indicate that foreign born workers earn less than native born workers, and for California’s largest by far immigrant population, Mexicans, they earn much less.

Let’s do a very preliminary, very incomplete analysis by looking at several of California’s largest occupations. This analysis can’t be relied on except to strongly suggest that immigrants may be greatly affected by a major minimum wage increase.

The analysis assumes that all positions in the jobs cited below are covered by the $15 minimum.

The median wage in the state in 2015 was $19.15, per federal surveys. The state’s minimum wage as of January 1, 2016 was $10.00 an hour. (The national median wage was $17.40, and minimum wages vary by state.)

Let’s start with maids and housekeeping cleaners (37-2021). In 2015 102,000 Californians worked in this job paying, in California, a median hourly wage of $11.12. Assuming that the $15 wage will come in overnight – which it will not, and all are at the median wage – which they are not, a 34% increase in hourly wage will give these workers an $804 million annual earnings boost. Nationwide, 49% of these workers were estimated in 2009 – 2011 to be foreign born, and half of them were estimate to be illegal. I cannot find an estimate of the foreign born share of jobholders in California.

The same analysis for jobs with very large immigrant share could be done for cooks (California median wage $11.89/hr, 30% immigrant share nationwide) and janitors and building cleaners ($12.40/hr, 27% share).

To make a sharp contrast, let’s look at the state’s pool of 212,000 secretaries and administrative assistants, whose 2015 media hourly wage was $18.43. Using the same simplistic assumptions above, the $15 minimum wage will benefit no one. Nationwide, 8% of these workers are immigrant and less than 1% are undocumented. The same analysis could be done for construction laborers (median wage in California, $18.16/hr, 34% immigrant share nationwide).

For waiters (California median wage $11.19, 16% immigrant share nationwide) the immigrant share matches the total immigrant share in the economy.

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