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Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 7:53pm
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A group of about 50 people protested the minimum wage outside a Las Cruces fast food restaurant Thursday afternoon to show solidarity for a national day of protest.
In Las Cruces nobody walked out of work during the protest organized by faith-based group Cafe, but there were protests and strikes scheduled in a hundred cities nationwide.
"It's not because people aren't qualified, it's because there's no jobs," said Protestor Nitish Narula.
While lack of quality jobs is an issue nationally, the group also argued a lot of people are forced to work minimum wage jobs and are not making enough money to live on.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
In New Mexico, Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both above that number but Las Cruces is paying workers at the federal minimum.
"We're going to be the largest city in the state making the least amount of money," said Cafe Executive Director Sarah Nolan.
After several controversial discussions, the City of Las Cruces ultimately supported a proposed increase statewide that was vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez.
New Mexico State University Economics Professor Chris Erickson said there are benefits and drawbacks to an increase.
He said because most companies are already operating with the smallest workforce possible, there would not be any major effects on employment numbers.
"If the minimum wage goes up, they just can't pare back anymore they have too keep hiring," Erickson said.
Erickson added costs of good would be almost unchanged because salary costs for employers wouldn't be too drastic if they are operating with only necessary employees.
However, there could be a negative impact for small businesses who would not be able to manage the added costs of salaries as easily as national corporations.
"Larger companies are able to absorb those costs better and the consequence is their able to gain a competitive advantage," Erickson said.
During their protest Cafe said an increase to the minimum wage would also help boost the economy through increased spending.
Erickson said it is hard to say for certain but thinks there possibly could be some impact with the low income levels in the state.
He said the bigger issue is if a city raises minimum wage higher than other parts of the state, that opens the door for businesses to leave that area.
"If you raise the minimum wage in Las Cruces, it's very easy for a company to locate somewhere else," he said.
Erickson also said people living off of minimum wage often qualify for government assistance programs that are paid by taxes and an increase could mean less people qualify alleviating the burden on the tax payer.