Currently, almost 90,000 Albuquerque residents — or 15.7 percent — live in poverty. The many who live on minimum wage add to these ranks.
Recently, a group of associated organizations turned in 25,000 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office to try to raise Albuquerque’s minimum wage by putting the issue on the ballot. If the measure were ratified, it would increase the minimum wage to $8.50 and keep it consistent with the rising cost of living. It would also ensure that tipped workers would receive 45 percent of the minimum wage.
This measure would greatly help the many hardworking individuals and families who have struggled to survive on the $7.50 wage.
Those working 40 hours a week for this wage earn just $15,600 annually, a figure that is barely above the federal poverty line for a family of two and well below for a family of three.
This situation is worse for the many tipped workers in Albuquerque, whose hourly pay is a staggering $2.13. While it is required that these low wages be made up for in tips, this requirement is not often followed. Additionally, the low tipped wage also disproportionately affects women because women fill a majority of tipped positions, particularly in the restaurant industry.
Most of us have experienced the hardship of having a minimum-wage job and know how difficult it is to make ends meet on such a wage.
Not only does a low minimum wage put a burden on working families and individuals, it hurts taxpayers. One in five New Mexicans receives food stamps, higher than the national average of one in seven. Surely many of those collecting food stamps are doing so because their hourly wage of $7.50 is not enough to support themselves or their families.
Many living on the minimum wage utilize the support of other government-funded programs, such as Medicaid, to get by. Thus, when the minimum wage is not livable for working people, taxpayers must fill the gap.
Despite this reality, some have criticized the effort to increase the minimum wage. One op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal opposed the measure because it could create obstacles for entrepreneurs in Albuquerque, and minimum-wage earners can simply rely on government programs like food stamps and Medicaid to supplement their income. Such arguments can be quickly dismissed.
First, Santa Fe is a strong example of a city with a growing business market as well as a high minimum wage, the highest minimum wage in the country. Second, the notion that relying on emergency government welfare programs, such as food stamps, should be a normal part of surviving on minimum wage is ridiculous. This is just shifting the burden from businesses to taxpayers, who, as discussed earlier, pay more when the minimum wage is not a livable wage.
Often in tough economic times, working people are neglected. The measure to raise the minimum and tipped wages in Albuquerque would help many of those residents struggling to make ends meet and would keep the minimum wage from continuing to stagnate.
If this measure does make it on the ballot, it is my hope that voters go to the polls and make their voices heard on the issue.