To the surprise of virtually no one, the minimum wage is now being debated in the current state legislative session. A Democratic legislative initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.50 was recently tabled in a House Committee on a 4-3 vote, and opponents and proponents were vocal on their respective merits of the issue. Of note, an Albuquerque Journal article on Feb. 3 cited a “recent Journal poll found that 68 percent of New Mexico voters supported an increase in the minimum wage (but didn’t specify how much) while 27 percent opposed any increase.”
A few months ago in the Senate race, I sought to advance a creative idea that would raise the minimum wage for some, while creating incentives for small businesses and opportunities for our youngest workers. This is a solution that can help members of our state Legislature resolve the minimum wage issue with a win-win solution.
For starters, if the minimum wage hasn’t been increased in a few years and a majority of citizens want an increase, it makes sense to do this. The cost of living has gone up since it was last raised, so it makes sense that we ought to keep up with that at the very least, but in a common-sense, constructive way.
We should have a two-tiered minimum wage that allows for workers below 26 to receive a lower wage (by the way, 26 may be negotiable). We should all want to remedy the chronic, teen unemployment problem that creates harmful societal consequences. We should also want to find a way to help some people get a hand up without an “across-the-board” increase that hurts New Mexico’s economy and our small businesses.
At best, young people who can’t find jobs simply fail to learn valuable work ethics, skills and self-discipline. At worst, the absence of a job for young people creates idle time that often results in their getting into trouble. The juvenile delinquency and street crime that can result can handicap their future forever. Moreover, youth criminal activity has a real financial cost to municipalities and the state. None of these consequences are good ones.
Now that the issue is up for debate, I encourage legislators on both sides of the aisle in Santa Fe to construct a two-tiered minimum-wage bill that addresses these issues for the benefit of all New Mexicans. If our legislators can produce a good compromise bill, we’ll achieve four wins: A win for older workers who’ll get a raise; a win for kids who’ll get a job they otherwise wouldn’t; a win for our courts and correctional system because we’ll reduce the number of kids getting into trouble with the law; and a win small businesses that depend upon cost-effective, entry-level labor to be profitable and keep their doors open.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans can have it one way on this issue. I encourage pragmatic compromise by both sides to resolve this matter for everyone’s benefit.