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August 11, 2014
Santa Fe’s Living Wage Takes Center Stage at National Economic Summit

 Mayor Javier M. Gonzales Presents to Cities of Opportunity Task Force

Santa Fe’s Living Wage received national attention at an economic summit addressing the America’s growing income gap.

On Monday morning, Mayor Gonzales presented on Santa Fe’s Living Wage to roughly 40 of his peers at a summit hosted by Mayor de Blasio of New York City. The meeting of the newly formed Cities of Opportunity Task Force is part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  The goal is to form a national coalition of Mayors to share best practices in order to address income inequality. The group also released a new study showing that the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and middle to low income households continues to grow.

Below are Mayor Gonzales’s comments to the Cities of Opportunity Task Force:

“No one who works full time should live in poverty.

It sounds simple enough but in 2003 we looked around our city, the "City Different", and we saw too many people struggling to get by, to feed their families, pay their rent or send their kids to school.

Time and again we've talked about cities taking action where other levels of government fail to do so. That is what we did in Santa Fe. The new wage was phased in starting at $8.50 - up from $5.15 - and is attached to an automatic cost of living increase.

The wage only passed because the community came together -- workers, religious organizations, unions, community and immigrant rights advocacy groups, and it only survived challenges both political - pressure from business groups and other organizations, and legal - in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Court of Appeals before being settled in our favor, because we worked to hold together that same fragile coalition.

The economic arguments are numerous, and I've seen them working in people's favor every day:

Wages have been stagnant for decades, even as worker productivity has sky-rocketed. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has been completely eroded by the steady increase in the cost of living. Raising the minimum corrects for that, but more importantly, the wage puts more money in more working people's pockets. Those are dollars that they turn around and put right back into the economy in local businesses. More workers are able to own their own homes. More people can send their kids to college. I don't want to understate the resources this can actually save cities like ours that are struggling with limited resources: with more money in their pockets every month, fewer people rely on assistance programs to make ends meet - saving local government resources that are currently being spent on assistance programs for those in need.

I'm convinced to this day that perhaps the most important factor that helped pass the Living Wage in Santa Fe was the fact that, at heart, this is a moral issue. It's about deciding what our values are as a community and acting on them. We saw hard-working Santa Feans in our community, people who put in a full day's work, in jobs that are critical to our overall economy, struggling to get by. Folks were working in Santa Fe who couldn't afford to live there. Folks were sadly leaving the city their families had lived in for generations because their wages just weren't keeping up with the cost of living. We decided that enough was enough. If you see the same in your community and decide to take action, I believe your cities will support you.

When the wage was first debated and finally passed, we heard predictions of doom and gloom, that businesses would be shuttered and that workers - not to mention politicians - would lose their jobs. That simply did not happen.

Even during the Great Recession Santa Fe enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in the state, and had the greatest increase in private sector jobs.

A study conducted by the University of New Mexico confirmed that the living wage had no negative impacts. In fact, the study found a reduced number of those relying on food stamps and welfare.

Today the wage is $10.66 per hour for all employees who work in Santa Fe with an automatic cost of living increase each year. It is the second highest citywide minimum wage in the country, just a few pennies below San Francisco.

The result has been a better standard of living for all our workers, less turnover and lower costs of training and recruitment for local businesses, and great pride that we in Santa Fe have done something to try to bridge the great inequality gap.

Our actions in 2003 put Santa Fe at the forefront of a national conversation. Cities around the country have taken action to raise their wage. The impact I've been proudest to see has happened closer to home. Statewide in 2007, Albuquerque by ballot initiative in 2012, Santa Fe County earlier this year, and the City of Las Cruces this year, have all taken steps to raise their minimum wages.

You don't have to show families like Ana Garcia's a study to convince them that the wage increase is working. We've only begun to see the fruits of our long-term impact. For the first time, Ana, who works in the service industry for a local restaurant, can afford a little house with a yard and a slide for the kids. Ana's sister Jessica moved to Santa Fe from North Carolina because she knew she could make enough here to create a better life for herself and her family.

Imagine that. A city, your city, lifting people up, bringing new people in, showing them a place they can come and build a life. It is the American Dream one story at a time. Because Ana can afford to build a better life now, who knows what she could go on to do? Maybe she'll found a restaurant of her own one day.

For me, the ultimate argument in favor of taking action on minimum wages that have been too low for too long is that: it's not just about what Ana or her sister Jessica will do for Santa Fe - it's about what their children or their children's children might be able to do. Who knows? If their parents are able to give them just another inch of opportunity thanks to the Living Wage, the sky is the limit, and in Santa Fe the sky is endless.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, head of the task force, Mayor Gonzales and their peers plan to detail what can be done to grow the middle class and create a stronger economy.

To follow Mayor Gonzales’s efforts throughout the task force visit his Twitter or Facebook feeds. There you will also find links to coverage from national news media outlets.

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