COMMENTARY: The Las Cruces Sun-News’ recent story, “Las Cruces Businesses Brace for Higher Minimum Wage,” was disappointing and incomplete. While I understand some businesses will be challenged to meet the new requirements, they have had two years to prepare for the wage increase that takes effect in January. They will get another two years to prepare for the third and final increase in 2019.
The Sun-News presents an incomplete picture by publishing a story about our higher minimum wage without interviewing one person who benefits from the higher wage.
Analyzing data from minimum wage increases can be tricky. The City of Las Cruces’ own annual review could only say that GRT and businesses licenses ticked up slightly – but there was no significant economic impact they could see so soon after the first phase went into effect.
The story also missed the bigger context. In this last election, four states voted to raise their minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. That included our neighbor, Arizona, whose voters also voted for President-elect Donald Trump. A state that many argued was doing better because of a lower wage just voted to go above and beyond what Las Cruces and New Mexico are willing to do for their workers.
Across the country, giving Americans a raise is popular. Among Trump supporters, 54 percent approve of a $10-per-hour minimum wage. A people’s agenda, one that works to support families to “make it on their own,” works regardless of party affiliation. Is that any wonder?
Additionally, nonprofits like Tresco, whose vice president for financial services the Sun-News quotes in its article, rely on fees for service and government contracts. States and the federal government decide their rate of reimbursement. If it’s too low to pay a higher minimum wage, their quarrel should be with elected leaders, not their own workers. I do applaud their willingness to move to $10.10 sooner, rather than waiting until 2019 when the last phase of Las Cruces’ minimum wage increase goes into effect.
I also applaud the City of Las Cruces for standing behind its own laws. I hope the city will also implement strong enforcement language that creates formal structures for workers to submit claims and seek help when employers take advantage of their labor.
It is my belief that under Trump and his incoming administration, New Mexico will be hit swiftly and acutely, given our position economically. Our state economy relies heavily on the federal government, as do our individual families. In 2014, half of all New Mexicans were enrolled in either Medicare or Medicaid. SNAP benefits help bridge the hunger gap for many children.
Raising the minimum wage helps families break their dependence on government assistance. We are told to despise the poor for their poverty. Yet every day, each of us struggles to pay off debt, find and keep health coverage, and help our children and grandchildren make ends meet.
In the late 1950s, minimum-wage jobs were entry level jobs. Today the wage is about the same as it was then when adjusted for inflation, but what was once a foot in the door to the labor force has become the last foothold keeping people from a plunge into deep poverty.
We must stop pretending that low-wage workers are invisible and “over there.” They are us. They are our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and grandmothers.
Sarah Silva is the executive director of the community organizing group New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFé). By way of disclosure, NMPolitics.net editor and publisher Heath Haussamen is dating Silva. Read about how NMPolitics.net handles articles that involve CAFé here.