“If the misery of the poor be caused by … our institutions,” wrote Charles Darwin, “then great is our sin.” A $7.50 per hour minimum wage prevails in New Mexico with few exceptions. The Harkin-Miller bill to raise the federal minimum to $10.10 per hour over three years failed in Congress in 2013.
Since then several states have raised their minimum wages including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Gov. Martinez took a contrary position last year when she vetoed a proposed increase in New Mexico to $8.50 per hour, well below the amount sought in Congress.
A study of the impact of the Harkin-Miller bill by the Economic Policy Institute concluded that $10.10 per hour adjusted for inflation would make the minimum wage equivalent to its value in the late 1960s. The positive impact of such an increase on New Mexicans would be significant. Nearly 150,000 workers – 19 percent of the workforce – would be affected.
Women comprise 56 percent of those affected. Nearly 60 percent are Hispanic. Twenty-six percent are parents. Of the estimated 534,000 children in our state, 87,000 or 16.3 percent would be positively impacted. The study also showed the creation in New Mexico of 500 new jobs, a welcome positive in a state that has lost jobs in the last year.
While some economists might not agree with the EPI conclusions, most economists agree that raising the minimum wage has a direct correlation to poverty reduction. In fact, the proposed federal legislation of $10.10 per hour was designed to protect a family of three from falling below the national poverty level.
According to 2012 statistics developed by the National Center for Children in Poverty (Mailman School of Health, Columbia University), 29 percent of New Mexico’s children lived below the federal poverty level of $23,283 for a family of four.
Sixty-one percent of these children lived with a single parent, who if employed 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, could, at the New Mexico minimum wage, earn just over $15,000 per year. Because poverty is a key factor in poor student academic achievement, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would kill two birds with one stone: lift a family out of poverty and increase student learning, a goal the governor claims to have.
So to those who stand in the way in increasing the minimum wage in New Mexico as other states have done, we can only say, “Great is your sin.”
David Prescott is a retired business executive and attorney.