Senators Romney and Cotton Introduce the Higher Wages for American Workers Act
FAIR Take | February 2021
Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) jointly introduced the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, a bill pursuing the novel idea of combining mandatory E-Verify with a federal minimum wage increase to $10. Both Senators believe this bill will bring needed relief to American workers at a time when it is desperately needed.
The bill unites two causes that appear unrelated on the surface, but are in fact very much connected. Mandatory E-Verify would prevent the hiring of illegal aliens at worksites across the U.S., and would subsequently reduce the illegal alien population by turning off the magnet for jobs. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.00 an hour would increase wages for workers with the lowest earnings and often the least education – the very workers who compete against illegal aliens for jobs.
The Senators note that the legislation will tighten the labor market which increases wages, protects the job market for legal workers by ending black-market labor, and prevents massive job losses by setting the minimum wage at $10 rather than $15. They explain their position further, stating:
This proposal would raise wages for 3.5 million workers without harming the very workers it’s intended to protect. Mandatory E-Verify would preserve American jobs for legal workers and remove incentives for increased illegal immigration. Both policies work in tandem to create tighter labor markets and put upward pressure on wages.
The bill calls for the gradual phase-in of both E-Verify and the minimum wage increase. Small businesses have an 18-month window to enroll in E-Verify and screen their new and existing workforce. It also includes measures giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the ability to block or suspend stolen or misused Social Security numbers, combating identity fraud.
Under the act, the minimum wage slowly increases from $7.25 to $10.00 within five years, beginning once the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic subside. After five years, the federal minimum wage then changes as an index tied to inflation, eliminating the need for Congress to revisit the minimum wage in the future. Small businesses can take up to six years for the minimum wage to reach the federal level, giving them greater flexibility in adapting to the new law.
No lawmaker has tried this approach before. It is a truly unique strategy to raise the wages for the lowest-earning workers in the country, and lawmakers should think twice before dismissing it out of hand. This bill gives both Republicans and Democrats a little bit of what they want: Republicans get E-Verify and less illegal immigration, and Democrats get a significant minimum wage increase. It is a common-sense compromise that would positively affect low earners in the country, the people whose livelihoods the COVID-19 economic crisis harmed the most.