For Estela Guzman, a researcher at New Mexico Voices for Children, a statewide advocacy organization, a top priority is to increase the state’s minimum wage. “These people have to work three to four jobs just to make ends meet,” she said, adding that increasing wages is a long-term solution for many. “If the community can’t thrive, we are all missing out.”
New Mexico has some 245,000 people, or 31 percent of its workforce, earning low wages at or near a proposed minimum wage of $12 per hour. About 159,000 or nearly 20 percent of workers are paid less than $12, said Sharon Kayne, a spokeswoman at the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, which issued a report in August on the minimum wage based on data from the Economic Policy Institute.
"And we know that children in New Mexico suffer from a high degree of food insecurity, which means that they don't always know where the next meal is coming from,” he said. “And making food more expensive for children and families just does not make sense to us." Nearly all U.S. states have eliminated, reduced or offset taxes as applied to food for home consumption.
However, the Albuquerque-based child advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children does not believe low incomes and poverty are the reason for New Mexico’s low broadband subscription rate. “That’s an excuse, not a reason,” said James Jimenez, the group’s executive director. “One thing we have seen around the state, even in low-income communities, a lot of people still have a phone (despite the cost). Companies find a way of providing service people can afford.”
And the advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children is distributing poll results that show overwhelming public opposition to reinstating a tax on groceries. “New Mexicans believe their leaders should be fighting hunger, not making it worse,” said James Jimenez, executive director of the agency.
“Some of those tax policy changes clearly did not accomplish what they were intended to accomplish,” said James Jimenez, director of the liberal advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children.
The average childcare provider in New Mexico only earns about $17,400 a year, according to a 2015 study from the Center for Education Policy and Research at the University of New Mexico. The issue pits low-income workers against low-income parents, explained Sharon Kayne of New Mexico Voices for Children. “The minimum wage is not the culprit,” she said. “The culprit is that the state does not reimburse childcare providers what it actually costs to care for children.”
First, we recommend that the new governor work to make our tax system fairer and more stable. Thanks to 15 years of failed trickle-down tax cuts, New Mexico is now much too dependent on revenue from oil and natural gas extraction to fund our state services like education and public safety. But the amount of revenue we collect from oil production is based on prices that are set at the global level, so we’re stuck in a boom-or-bust cycle.
James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said state policymakers could address the inequity by embracing a more progressive tax system. "It's really a much fairer way of allocating tax responsibility to support the kinds of things that we need - good, strong schools and higher education, great infrastructure," he said. "Those are really the fundamental things that we need to figure out how to pay for in a fair way."
The numbers, while encouraging, are not necessarily a comprehensive look at childhood poverty, says Sharon Kayne, communications director for child advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children. Kayne pointed out that the poverty line referenced by these statistics is drastically low, around $20,000 a year for a family of three and about $25,000 for a family of four. So, even though the official count holds that 30 percent of New Mexico’s children are living in poverty, Kayne said the percentage of children who struggle with poverty-induced stress on a day-to-day basis is certainly higher.