Single Moms' Living Wage
Listening to the KUNM call in show last Thursday morning while getting ready for work, I perfected the art of brushing my teeth with various degrees of intensity, at times stopping completely in order to hear what was being said. The living wage, pros and cons, yadda yadda, we've heard all the arguments ... or so I thought.
That was until Santa Fe City Councilor Miguel Chavez opened his mouth, at which point I stopped mid-stroke, extra-minty toothpaste burning my tongue, to listen more carefully. Foaming at the mouth, I stood paralyzed, not wanting to miss one badly chosen word after another.
“Has the living wage worked in Santa Fe?” he was asked. Now, for those of you Albuquerqueans who like to pretend Santa Fe doesn't exist, Councilor Chavez voted for the living wage bill in Santa Fe, which passed in February 2003. The ordinance went into effect on June 24, 2004, after District Judge Daniel Sanchez upheld a challenge to the ordinance.
Presumably, Chavez was asked to be on the radio program in favor of the living wage proposal as a good example for Albuquerque to follow. But not only did he sound halfhearted in his support for the measure, he made no convincing statements as to its success. He didn't mention that gross receipts were up by 5.7 percent from July-December 2004, compared to the same period in 2003; or that 200 new jobs were added in retail and another 400 in the hospitality sector (which includes restaurants); or that average monthly unemployment dropped by .6 percent. He somehow neglected to mention that the caseload of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dropped by an average of 4.9 percent, while at the state level, this figure rose by just over 4.5 percent.
Because Councilor Chavez said so little, I was able to stop a toothpaste drip from landing on my shirt, spit, rinse and spit again, all before Carter Bundy (who represents AFSCME) jumped in with an explanation of why a living wage is needed in Albuquerque, particularly by single mothers. Over 60 percent of the people that would benefit from the wage increase are women, and a plurality of them are single moms.
Then, just as I thought the show was on the right track, host Arcie Chapa asked one of the guests opposing the living wage ballot measure a question about what she thought the living wage should be. Cindy McGill from PNM, representing the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, was unable to give a clear answer, though she was able to give the term “message discipline” new meaning by methodically repeating the same thing over and over and giving no opinion. The minimum wage, she maintained, should be set by the federal government, and not set by different municipalities or states. I'd like to know what Ms. McGill would cut from her budget in order to live on $5.15 an hour. Would it be the mortgage payment, school supplies, groceries or ... the PNM bill?
How much income would a single mom need in order to live and not be poor in Albuquerque? According to the Economic Policy Institute, it's a lot more than the $5.15 hourly wage currently in place, or even the proposed $7.50. Someone who works full-time at the $5.15 national minimum would earn $10,712 per year before taxes. A new study by Dr. Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, demonstrates that this figure is 13.2 percent below the 2004 national poverty threshold for a family of two (1 adult, 1 child) of $12,335. In addition, a broad range of researchers considers the official poverty thresholds to be between 25 and 50 percent too low. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a single parent with one child living in Albuquerque should have an annual salary of $28,236.
I'm not a single mom myself, but my mother was, and she worked three jobs while putting herself through college in order to provide for us kids. We should be passing policies that help single moms, not ones that keep them at the same below-poverty wage for more than eight years (that's right, the last increase in the federal minimum wage was in 1997).
Single moms deserve more. Join them on Oct. 4 at the voting booth. Call the City Clerk at 768-4090 to find out where your polling place is. Write a note on your hand right now in permanent marker, or enter it in your PDA. Oct. 4: Vote.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.