New Mexico Workers Lost $300 Million to Minimum Wage Theft in Two Years
Monday, Feb 05, 2024

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Minimum wage violations cost 86,000 New Mexicans a combined $300 million in 2021 and 2022—the most wages stolen in New Mexico over the last 20 years by a substantial margin, according to a new report released today by the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University, a research center that studies labor standards in the U.S.

“Our study shows that, year after year, tens of thousands of hard-working New Mexicans are being denied their just wages,” said Jake Barnes, a Researcher with the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University. “This form of theft disproportionately impacts already-marginalized workers and their families and exacerbates economic inequality by keeping earned wages out of the hands of those who can least afford it.”

Researchers Jake Barnes, Daniel Galvin, Jenn Round, and Janice Fine analyzed federal data to determine the extent of minimum wage theft in New Mexico. They found:

  • Minimum wage violations have cost workers an estimated $1.3 billion over the last 20 years. That’s an average of more than $66 million per year.
  • An average of nearly 20,000 low-wage workers are illegally paid below the minimum wage every year, costing each worker about $3,300 annually.
  • The situation worsened sharply in 2021 and 2022, with 86,000 New Mexicans experiencing minimum wage violations costing them a combined $300 million.
  • Native American women are more than twice as likely, and Latina women non-citizens are more than three times as likely, to experience a violation than white men.
  • New Mexicans working in food services and drinking places, agriculture, personal and laundry services, private households, and social assistance are particularly likely to experience minimum wage violations.
  • Both older and especially younger workers are more likely than mid-career workers to experience minimum wage theft.
  • Part-time workers, non-hourly workers, and workers without a high school diploma are also more likely to be paid under the minimum wage.

Eleven of the 12 industries facing the highest rates of violations in New Mexico are expected to grow by 2030, and five of these industries are projected to grow at a faster rate than the overall state workforce. These high-violation industries together are projected to generate roughly 54,000 new jobs by 2030, accounting for more than half of all projected growth in the New Mexico workforce over the decade.

The report recommends that the State of New Mexico move urgently to address these issues by expanding the number of investigators and continuing to implement strategic enforcement practices. Currently, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has only 10-12 investigators to protect the minimum wage rights of New Mexico’s 965,500 workers.

“The agency is critically under-resourced,” said Professor Janice Fine, Director of the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University. “Effective enforcement of minimum wage protections can only be achieved when the agency responsible for implementing these laws is adequately staffed. Urgent action is needed to increase the number of investigators, an investment that will help to improve conditions for many New Mexican workers and their families, level the playing field for good employers, and increase tax revenue for the state.”

“In our experience, wage theft can quickly propel low-wage New Mexican workers into poverty, hurting families and local economies,” said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide immigrant and worker’s rights organization. “During this 30-day budget session, it is incumbent on state legislators to adequately fund New Mexico’s Labor Relations Division to conduct more robust community education about wage and hour laws, hire additional investigators, and help workers recoup their unpaid wages quickly and efficiently.”  

Press Contacts

Steve Flamisch
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
848.252.9011 (cell)

Marcela Díaz
Somos Un Pueblo Unido
505.670.9301 (cell)

About Us

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. 

The Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University (wjl@RU) exists to address economic inequality through supporting and strengthening grassroots organizing and democratic governance. We do this through building dynamic communities of learning and practice, carrying out cutting edge research, and offering specialized training and in-depth one-on-one consultations.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido is a statewide immigrant-based worker and racial justice organization operating in eight rural and urban counties. Since 2008, Somos has worked to strengthen wage and hour protections, remedies, and enforcement policies in New Mexico.