Minimum Wage in New Mexico

Feb 20, 2013

The issue of minimum wage has come to the forefront of both New Mexico and national politics. But what does it mean for local business owners and workers?

Another day, another dollar. Or $8.50 or $9 an hour.

“Most of my workers are hourly workers…it will increase my payroll by roughly $50,000 a year,” said Vincent Vaccaro, owner of Lorenzo’s pizza in Las Cruces.

“The minimum wage was designed to bring people into the job market that didn’t have skills. It was never designed to be a living wage.”

He brought his business…and his family here from California more than a decade ago.

"I’ve been cooking since I was about seven. Opened my first restaurant in Berkeley, CA in 1983."

Vince pays his workers based on level of skill. But he starts everyone at the minimum.

"Even if they have 20 years of experience, they have to show me what they have. I've given raises in two days.”

“The only way you're gonna help people is teaching them job sets and having them move up the ladder."

What he pays workers ranges from $7.50 to close to $20 an hour.

"It depends on the quality of the person.”

He started out at the minimum himself. “I started at $1.47 an hour. And bread by the way was 19 cents."

Sarah Nolan is the executive director at CaFe -- Communities In Action And Faith.

“…faith based organization, started by a group of clergy in 2009.”

Her organization is pushing for a higher minimum wage. 

"Sixty percent of minimum wage workers are adults. Southern New Mexico would generate so much more spending if we were to get this minimum wage increased passed by the governor. The question for her is what would happen if she didn't pass this. It's hugely popular among New Mexicans.”

Right now, Las Cruces has about 400 private sector businesses. About half of those employ 100 or more employees.

The average that local businesses pay employees is just above $8 an hour, so a new law may not affect local ones as much as some bigger name stores.

“It's actually enforcing the big boxes in our community that are out-of-state, that aren't local to pay their fair share."

President Obama mentioned the minimum wage in his State of the Union address.

“But today a full time worker making the min wage earns $14,500 a year. even with the tax breaks we put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why the last time Congress chose to raise the minimum wage, Congress chose to bump theirs even higher.”

New Mexico was one of those states. It’s at $7.50 an hour in the state, 25 cents higher than the national $7.25 an hour. 

President Obama’s chief economic advisor, Alan Krueger, is an economist who became famous in the 1990s for research supporting minimum wage hikes.

Krueger said in his book, “Myth and Measurement” that since a minimum wage increase raises costs for every business, individual owners wouldn’t lose customers to other businesses. 

The ideas in the book were controversial at the time….and still are to some extent.

New legislation to increase the minimum wage in New Mexico is going through the legislature, but Gov. Susana Martinez will likely veto it.

Any increases will most likely come from a federal increase.