Raising the minimum wage is clearly a contentious and emotional issue. I have heard from dozens of constituents both in support of and opposition to raising the minimum wage in Bernalillo County to match the city of Albuquerque’s $8.50 per hour.
While I am open to talking about raising the minimum wage, I do have some concerns that I think need to be a key part of the discussion.
First, we must distinguish between minimum wage and living wage.
The minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage, as they are two very different things. A minimum wage is dictated by law to set a fair and standard wage for entry-level workers. A living wage is not determined by statute and is the income required to meet basic needs over an extended period of time or lifetime.
Attempting to make the minimum wage a living wage only serves to eliminate many entry-level jobs because businesses are not able to meet the financial burden of paying a high wage for entry-level work.
Additionally, tying minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index is not appropriate because the CPI is used to determine cost-of-living, making it a more appropriate determinant of the current living wage than the amount at which the minimum wage should be set.
Second, nothing in life is guaranteed, including a raise.
Many federal, state and local government workers do not receive automatic raises. Even in Bernalillo County, all annual county employee raises are based on the county budget and voted upon by the Board of Commissioners. In the private sector, most raises are based on a pay-for-performance system.
If we tie our minimum wage to the CPI, we are creating a system of automatic, guaranteed raises.
If we do this, it will not be long before we have a minimum wage that is so inflated we are no longer able to compete with our neighboring states when it comes to job creation.
Right now, the Bernalillo County minimum wage matches the New Mexico state wage of $7.50 per hour and exceeds the federal minimum wage. This current minimum is similar to other states in the region and therefore makes us competitive when compared to Texas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
If New Mexico raises the minimum wage to $8.50, we will have the highest minimum wage in the region and the fourth highest in the nation behind Washington, Oregon and Vermont. In this economy, New Mexico and Bernalillo County cannot afford to lose jobs to our neighboring states.
I am willing to engage in a discussion to raise the minimum wage in Bernalillo County, but I would caution against hasty action. We have yet to see the effects of the wage increase in the city of Albuquerque and I think we would be wise to not enact a county increase before we fully understand how this change has affected the Albuquerque economy.