COVID-19 has exposed a society that is reeling from deep inequities that have gone unaddressed for too long.
This is especially true of our economic system. Those of us who can telecommute and enjoy benefits like health insurance, paid time off or sick leave have an easier time dealing with the pandemic. We can homeschool our children and afford to stay at home.
But for most in this country and for most New Mexicans this is not the case. Far too many people rely on low-wage jobs for their livelihoods. Most do not have paid sick leave or the opportunity to stay at home – at least not without risk of losing housing, or the ability to put food on the table. In fact, a recent survey by Latino Decisions found that 20% of Hispanic families in New Mexico had someone in their household lose a job due to COVID-19 and a shocking 53% report having under $1,000 in savings.
Therefore, as we emerge from this pandemic, we must set our sights on building a new “normal.” We cannot afford to go back to systems of the past, systems that have been exposed for their gross inequity and inefficiency. Our country’s economic recovery must be rooted in the assurance that all people not only have their basic needs met, but their ambitions and aspirations can be pursued and achieved.
Since New Mexico’s COVID-19 shutdown, Southwest Creations Collaborative and Partnership for Community Action responded quickly to the crisis. PCA adapted its work and moved its school-based family engagement activities online, in addition to raising over $60,000 in private funding to provide cash assistance to low income immigrants throughout Albuquerque. SCC adapted its existing manufacturing capacity and produced more than 30,000 face masks in partnership with Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque – keeping 45 people employed that are often the only employed member of the family.
Southwest Creations Collaborative and Partnership for Community Action will also soon break ground on an economic development project that was conceived as an “alternative economic development” model. The South Valley Social Enterprise Center is a public-private partnership that will bring hundreds of construction jobs and more than 60 permanent, living wage jobs to the heart of Albuquerque’s South Valley. The $4.5 million project will house textile/manufacturing, office space and an engagement hub where families from across the region can engage in adult education, youth mentorship, childcare, and job training programs. The estimated long-term economic impact of this project is more than $20 million over nine years.
As COVID-19 ravages our communities, the urgency of this project has only been amplified. For decades, our state’s economic development strategy has relied on massive financial incentives to create jobs. Concepts like ours highlight an opportunity for local governments and private investors to come together and develop innovative, cost-effective ways to bring living wage jobs with benefits to our communities.
The health crisis created by COVID-19 needs to continue to be addressed by all levels of government through strict public health guidelines that prioritize people’s health above all else. In the coming weeks, the public and private sector will begin to aggressively pursue economic recovery efforts. It is in these recovery efforts where this project can be a guiding light for so many communities in our state. Are we content with low wage jobs that keep families poor? Or can we rebuild our economy so that anyone who works full-time can live dignified, fulfilling lives?
We as social enterprises and community-based organizations are ready to take the next step to support New Mexico’s economic recovery. We have a proven model. We have willing partners in the private and public sector. We have hundreds of families ready to help rebuild an economy that is equitable, compassionate, and stronger than ever.
Susan Matteucci is executive director of Southwest Creations Collaborative, a social enterprise that has provided dignified, living wage employment to women from low-income communities for 26 years. Javier Martínez is executive director of Partnership for Community Action, an immigrant-led organization working to build economically vibrant and resilient communities throughout New Mexico. The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico.