New Mexico’s wealthiest fifth has almost ten times income of bottom fifth

November 15, 2012

CONTACT: Sharon Kayne, Communications Director, NM Voices for Children, 505-244-9505

ALBUQUERQUE—The income gap between New Mexico’s richest and poorest households is the widest in the nation, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. The average income of the top 20% of households is 9.9 times the average income of the bottom 20%.

“Inequality is strongly associated with poor health outcomes such as shortened life expectancy and teen pregnancy,” said Gerry Bradley, Research Director for New Mexico Voices for Children. “Extreme inequality is also associated with social ills such as low test scores and high dropout rates, violent crime, incarceration, and restricted social mobility. Looking at income inequality shines a light on why New Mexico performs so poorly by so many measures.”

A snapshot of how households at different income levels were doing in New Mexico as of the late 2000s (2008-2010, the most recent data available), provides a troubling picture of income inequality:

  • The income of the richest fifth of households ($161,162, on average) was 9.9 times greater than that of the poorest (who earned $16,319, on average). For the nation as a whole, that number was 8.
  • Income gaps between New Mexico’s high- and middle-income households are also the largest in the nation: 3.2 times.
  • The gap between the very richest and the poor is even larger:  the top 5% of New Mexico households had an average income 16.8 times that of the bottom 20%.

The report, Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends, released in New Mexico in coordination with NM Voices for Children, finds that our low- and moderate-income families did not share in the most recent economic expansion. Over the course of the last economic cycle, from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, the incomes of New Mexico’s richest fifth of households grew by 30.2% percent while those of New Mexico’s poorest fifth grew by just 7.4%.

“Underlying extreme inequality in New Mexico are serious problems in the state’s job market,” Bradley said. “New Mexico has an array of jobs: excellent jobs, good jobs, poor jobs, and no jobs. The excellent jobs are in the national labs and at Intel;  the good jobs are in health care, manufacturing, and education; the bad jobs are the poverty-level jobs in hotels, restaurants and call centers; and the ‘no jobs’ are because the demand for labor in New Mexico is very weak for workers with low levels of education.

“New Mexico’s lawmakers need to enact policies that will narrow the income gap—such as raising the state’s minimum wage and indexing it to rise with inflation, and restoring unemployment insurance benefits,” Bradley said. “Fully implementing the Affordable Care Act—including the Medicaid expansion—will create much-needed jobs,” he added.

The joint CBPP/EPI report is available here:


New Mexico Voices for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico’s children, families and communities. Our fiscal policy work is funded by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the WK Kellogg Foundation, and the Working Poor Families Project.
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