In 2003, the city of Santa Fe proudly established a minimum wage higher than the federal and state levels — the first U.S. city to do so — and called it a “living wage: the minimum hourly wage necessary for a person to achieve a higher standard of living.”

Adjusted annually, the “living wage” in Santa Fe was increased to $14.03 an hour on March 1, 2023.

Even though $14.03 is nearly twice the federal minimum, this wage is less than one-third what a single-parent family with two children actually needs to meet essential expenses in Santa Fe. When both parents in a family of three work full time at $14.03 per hour, they are short of an actual “living income” by $22,000 a year — a 27% shortfall. Santa Fe’s minimum wage does not even provide a true living wage to a single person without children.

The true amount a Santa Fean needs to earn is no mystery. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates a real “living wage” each year: the amount family breadwinner(s) in each U.S. county must earn to meet a family’s essential needs such as food, child care, medical care, housing, transportation, education, clothing and taxes — based on local costs. Frills like eating out, entertainment, vacations — or even savings for college, retirement or emergencies — are excluded.

MIT’s 2023 “living wage” recommendations for adults working full time in Santa Fe:

  • Two working adults with one child must each earn $19.35/hour.
  • One working adult in a family with two adults and one child must earn $34.23/hour.
  • A working single parent with two children must earn $43.51/hour.

The average of these amounts is over $30/hour.

Santa Fe’s current minimum wage will not meet the essential expenses of any size family with children or even single adults with no children. These policy decisions are consigning every minimum-wage earner and their children to hunger. Santa Fe, how can we live with this reality?

In June of 2022, a working group at The Food Depot responded to Mayor Alan Webber’s request for solutions to eliminate child hunger in Santa Fe. After more than a year examining child hunger and how other jurisdictions in the U.S. and abroad address this crisis, the group concluded that “preventing the presence of hungry children can only be reliably accomplished if … every family responsible for the care of one or more children has sufficient financial resources on a regular basis to meet all the family members’ essential needs. …”

The Food Depot’s report urges the city and county to increase the minimum wage — in increments — to a level where working people can meet their families’ basic needs and avoid hunger. While the report identifies numerous steps to mitigate hunger and reduce its frequency, the only way to eliminate hunger is to ensure families have sufficient income to meet essential expenses.

Supporting a true living wage is a bold solution but one we must all endorse if we truly want a healthy community for everyone in Santa Fe. If you agree, tell the mayor, city councilors and county commissioners how you feel and urge them to make the minimum wage a true “living wage” again.

Scott Bunton and Carolyn Kastner, members of The Food Depot’s Advocacy Committee, are two of the authors of “Report to the Mayor: Ensuring Every Child in Santa Fe Has Access to Sufficient and Nutritious Food, June 2022.”