Move New Mexico toward a living wage

Posted 2/23/17

The idea that a worker can live on $7.50 an hour is not based in reality. It’s the reason those who work for $7.50 often have two or three jobs and also put a strain on government resources out …

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Move New Mexico toward a living wage

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The idea that a worker can live on $7.50 an hour is not based in reality. It’s the reason those who work for $7.50 often have two or three jobs and also put a strain on government resources out of necessity.

One of the reasons Bernie Sanders made such an impressive run in 2016 was because of his honest attention to the working class in America.

A pillar of his policies was the idea of a living wage. Sanders' message was that millions of Americans are working for inadequate wages. He said no full-time worker should live in poverty and that the federal minimum wage ($7.25) is starvation pay and must become a living wage. Sanders' idea was to increase it to $15 an hour over a period of several years.

We agree with Sanders and others that the feds and the states should be sincerely moving toward a living wage for those who sincerely work a full-time job.

An increase in the minimum wage is once again on the Democrat docket at the legislative session. Some Republicans seem willing to at least come to a compromise. There is opposition from business groups and workers’ rights groups. Right now, the compromise from Democrats appears to be a boost in the statewide rate from $7.50 to $9.25. That’s less than a lot of Democrats would like, but it’s progress. As Andrew Oxford at The Santa Fe New Mexican reports, there is a section of the bill that would put the Work Week Act on the back burner as a compromise. But removal of the act, say supporters, could stop local governments from adopting policies that would curb flexible scheduling by employers, a practice workers’ rights advocates argue leaves low-wage laborers with uncertainty about the number of hours they might work in a week.

In addition, some business groups and Republicans argue that $9.25 an hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters, from $2.13 to $3.70.

The fact that these disagreements exist is not unhealthy, however. Politics can be a messy affair by design, but compromise should be where lawmakers go on this one. If Democrats leave any increase in the dust because they don’t get everything they want, it would be a failure for workers. If Republicans aren’t willing to compromise as well, that’s not a service to the residents of New Mexico.

The concerns small businesses have are real. Independent restaurant profit margins, for example, are usually very tight — and any mandated increases in wages can have real effects. Some restaurants have considered moving toward a “self-service” format to avoid paying increased wages for tipped workers.

Taos businesses face a similar situation. In a largely service and tourism economy, raising the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour toward levels like Albuquerque ($8.80), Santa Fe ($11.09 and climbing) or Las Cruces ($9.20) can seem backbreaking. Taos, like many towns and cities in New Mexico, is still struggling to recover from what has become a decadelong recession.

But moving toward a living wage for workers makes sense economically, too. It means less reliance and strain on the system for essentials like health care and other benefits.

Compromise should be the word of the day. Move in the direction of increased wages, but come to the table with those who have real concerns and hammer out a deal – one that moves New Mexico up from $7.50 an hour.

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