By Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
Fair pay for honest work. Let’s start there, where I think we can all agree.
Too many New Mexicans, however, are trying to make a life or jumpstart a young working career out of what is effectively spare change.
Workers and students and part-time working parents all across New Mexico are taking home too little, trying to stretch dollars as far as they’ll go to pay for basic necessities.
Our state minimum wage hasn’t budged in years – $7.50 an hour is not worth what it was a decade ago, and a stagnant wage will continue to lose value as we move forward. Wherever you work, whichever community in this state you call home, $7.50 is not enough. Raising the wage incentivizes work and will likely help families at the lower end of the income spectrum graduate out of certain income-based assistance programs -- so we’ll have reduced the extent of our reliance on the social safety net, and we’ll have helped many low-income New Mexicans gain a first foothold in the self-determined climb out of poverty, something I expect everyone should cheer.
We have the opportunity now to remedy what I view as an untenable situation for both our larger economy and the smaller contained economies of low-income households and communities.
Our minimum wage is too low. So we need to raise it. Workers who are directly affected will put more of the money they earn back into our local economies; family income would rise for more than a quarter of New Mexico’s most vulnerable children; and female workers, who make up a disproportionate segment of the minimum wage population, would see some of the greatest benefit.
The arguments against this idea typically center around the supposition that it will somehow hurt businessowners, or hamstring our economy, or decrease demand for labor. Economists and researchers, however, generally agree on the idea that minimum wage increases reduce poverty. And a recent report in Bloomberg highlighted the growing body of evidence, most recently a research paper covering several decades, that moderate increases implemented over time don’t kill jobs or hurt businesses. Wages have lagged behind advances in productivity and inflation; wages at the lower end can go up bit by bit without hurting the bottom line.
And that’s exactly the sort of increase I’ve endorsed, one that does not leap too far too fast. I’m not trying to catch New Mexico businesses off-guard with an overnight transformation. Instead, I support a responsible approach, lifting our minimum wage to $10 this coming fiscal year, with graduated, prudent additional raises to take place in subsequent years, leading to an eventual index to inflation.
This is a measured initiative that can work for everyone. Small business owners can be assured this administration is keeping their ledgers in mind. I’ve outlined increases to our Local Economic Development Act and Job Training Incentive Program; I’ve also called for a greater investment from our Severance Tax Permanent Fund, delivering $200 million directly into New Mexico businesses, and a doubled allocation from the Small Business Investment Corporation, which will make $50 million available to small businesses in New Mexico not currently served by banks.
The increase I have endorsed is not a radical change for the businesses that play such a key role in our communities, but it will make a meaningful difference in the lives of impoverished New Mexicans, and it sends a clear signal to hard-working people all across this state: We recognize your struggle, and we validate your commitment to reaching a better economic station, and we will not turn a blind eye.
I don’t see the minimum wage as a fight between capital and labor, between persistent small businesses and diligent employees. I think offering New Mexicans a pathway out of poverty helps all of us, no matter which side of the check you sign. But if wealthy well-connected business interests want to turn this proposal into a tug-of-war over their interests versus regular New Mexicans working their hardest, I’ll give you one guess which side I’m on.
Michelle Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico.