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Report: Minimum Wage Boost Could Reduce Poverty

The state minimum wage in New Mexico is $7.50 per hour, but Santa Fe's minimum hourly wage is $11.40. (epi.org)
The state minimum wage in New Mexico is $7.50 per hour, but Santa Fe's minimum hourly wage is $11.40. (epi.org)
April 16, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new report calls for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour to reduce poverty and promote pay equity.

The state minimum wage in New Mexico, $7.50 an hour, is slightly higher than the national wage. Since the current federal minimum wage went into effect nine years ago, it has lost 13 percent of its value - and the minimum wage for workers who earn tips has stayed at $2.13 an hour since 1991.

Emily Chatterjee, senior counsel at the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said raising the wage would do more than help lift people out of poverty.

"It would address the gender pay gap, because women are over-represented in this workforce,” Chatterjee said. “It would also help address the racial wealth gap, because people of color are also over-represented here."

Minimum wage varies by city in New Mexico - Santa Fe pays the highest per hour at $11.40; Las Cruces pays $9.20, and Albuquerque, $8.95. The report - entitled "Bare Minimum: Why We Need to Raise Wages for America's Lowest-Paid Families" - includes firsthand accounts of low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet.

Chatterjee pointed out that people working for tips are twice as likely to live in poverty, and two-thirds of them are women. And she added that poverty isn't the only result.

"Tipped workers' livelihood shouldn't depend on whether a customer feels like being generous that day. There's a power imbalance there,” she said. “In fact, a lot of tipped workers face increased levels of sexual harassment as a result of that."

Chatterjee said the report makes a case for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 as one of four steps to effectively fight poverty and wage inequality.

"We want to index it to inflation, so that the value of the minimum wage doesn't erode over time,” she said. “We also want to eliminate the tip minimum wage, and we want to eliminate the sub-minimum wage that some people with disabilities are paid."

Across the country, 58 million workers are paid less than $15 an hour. That's more than half the American workforce.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM