Stocks are soaring. Corporate profits are at record highs. Unemployment is low. So everyone should be happy, right? The problem is, many folks aren’t for darn good reasons.
Last year wages stayed completely flat, meaning workers are putting in more and more effort but see no gain from it.
Jobs are less reliable. Companies have kept wages low and profits high by hiring temporary, part-time workers. This “underemployment” contributes both to low pay and job uncertainty.
Costs continue to rise, with housing being a critical example. The rent for a single family home in New Mexico averages $1200. For a family to spend less than 30% of their income on housing, considered a good budget target, they have to make $48,000 a year. But the median household income in our state is only $44,000, leaving most people living in a substandard house or apartment, or cutting things like food, child care, or savings.
The results are stark and bad.
More people in New Mexico turn to government help. For instance, 72% of births were paid for by Medicaid.
Families live paycheck to paycheck. 40% of Americans don’t have access to $400 for an emergency, and the percentage is much higher in our poor state. It means families use predatory payday loan companies if they need cash, putting them further in the hole.
The good news is there are solutions if we have the courage to embrace them. We can:
Invest in kids. Quality early childhood home visiting and education is one of the most consistent and effective ways to give kids and parents better educations, health outcomes, and jobs.
Raise the minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty, but outside of Santa Fe, Las Cruces, or Albuquerque $7.50 an hour puts you below the poverty line if you work 40-hours a week and have a kid. This simply isn’t good enough.
Guarantee access to health care. We can be the first state to create a Medicaid Buy-In Program, providing better care at lower costs to patients and taxpayers.
Promote apprenticeships. States like South Carolina and Maryland have done a great job with targeted tax credits, giving high school credit for participation, and encouraging programs for technology and health care. We should follow their lead to make sure students have the skills necessary for jobs in a 21st century economy..
Stop blanket tax cuts for millionaires and corporations. The Trump tax giveaway last year padded their pockets more without raising wages, and in New Mexico we lose $50 Million per year in investment tax breaks for the rich. This doesn’t create jobs and leaves us with less money for schools, health care, cops, and firefighters.
Promote unions. They kept wages high for everyone through the 1960’s by giving workers a unified voice in corporate decisions. But as unions declined, so has pay for all but those at the top.
All of these work, and we can make them happen right here in New Mexico without waiting on Congress. But democracy isn’t a spectator sport, and we all have a role to play in making our communities better.
So this year, ask candidates for Governor and the Legislature where they stand on these important issues. Then, get out and vote accordingly.
Bill McCamley is a State Representative from Las Cruces. Javier Martinez is a State Representative from Albuquerque.