New Mexico lawmaker proposes $16 minimum wage

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thousands of New Mexicans can expect a small pay raise in the new year, but even higher wages could be coming in 2024.

“I really feel that our minimum wage should allow a person to work 40 hours a week, and still be able to meet basic necessities, and at this point, I don’t believe we’re there with the $12 an hour,” said Democratic District 43 State Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos.

Starting Jan. 1, New Mexico’s minimum wage is set to increase to $12/hour (tipped workers will start earning $3/hour). It’s the third and final increase dictated by a 2019 state law that gradually increased the state’s minimum wage from $9/hour.

Rep. Chandler wants to go even higher. She’s planning to propose an amendment to that law during the upcoming legislative session to increase New Mexico’s minimum wage to $16/hour in 2024 (it’s not clear what tipped workers would earn). Chandler’s proposal is also expected to include language requiring lawmakers to adjust the state’s minimum wage every year based on inflation and other economic factors.

“This is the floor for what we as a public policy believe is a fair wage for one individual who wants to be able to provide for themselves,” Chandler said.

Data from MIT’s living wage calculator shows the average worker needs to earn at least $16.25/hour to live in New Mexico comfortably. Luna County has the lowest living wage at $14.98/hour — which is still nearly $3 higher than the state’s upcoming minimum wage.

“And that’s for a single person,” Chandler said. “It doesn’t take into account that we have many single parents, we have working couples.”

A $16 minimum wage would make New Mexico one of the top five highest paying states in the country. California is set to have the highest minimum wage in 2023 at $15.50/hour. Chandler believes having the highest minimum wage in the U.S. would be an advantage.

“We have been trying to get workers to come into the state, so what we have done is create competitive advantage for the state of New Mexico and sent the message that this is a desirable place for people to come back,” Chandler said.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, believes drastically raising the state’s minimum wage will have negative consequences for the economy. He believes higher wages will force businesses to reevaluate how many employees they can afford – and what kind of workers they hire.

“It would really, really exacerbate youth unemployment,” he said. “If you raise that wage from $12 an hour to $16 an hour, they’re not going to hire the teenager who has no experience, they’re going to hire somebody else. That puts that teenager in a disadvantage going forward because their work experience now was pushed off for years.”

Black says many businesses are already struggling to keep up with the current increases. On January 1st, New Mexico’s minimum wage will have increased by $3 since 2019. Chandler’s proposal would signal an overall $8 increase in just 5 years.

“Those employers that can restructure their business model will, those that can’t, won’t be able to, they’ll have to find cost-cutting other ways, or they won’t be able to continue to operate,” Black said.

Both Rep. Chandler and Black agree economic factors have already encouraged many businesses to increase wages on their own. According to ZipRecruiter, 87% of New Mexicans already earn $20/hour or higher.

Black says businesses understand the pressure to increase wages, but he’s hopeful state lawmakers will invite businesses leaders to the negotiating table. He says the best policies are often compromises both sides aren’t totally happy with.

“There’s a diversity of opinions from all perspectives,” Black said. “I think there’s willingness to have that conversation, but $16 an hour is frankly a non-starter for the business community.”