NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Thousands of jobless New Mexicans right now are receiving more money in unemployment benefits than they were when they were working. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty says this highlights an economic problem in the state — that low-wage workers were underpaid, to begin with.

“We all need help through this crisis and many of us here in New Mexico live paycheck to paycheck, and when we lose our job, as so many of us have – we need these benefits to help put food on the table, and to keep a roof over our heads,” explained Stephanie Welch, Director of Workers’ Rights for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Normally, people on unemployment only get a fraction of their previous pay on unemployment, as part of an incentive to find a new job. Since the statewide shutdown of businesses due to COVID-19, lower-wage workers are now getting 100% of their previous pay. On top of unemployment benefits, jobless New Mexicans should also receive $600 per week in stimulus money.

That means a full-time minimum wage worker making $9-per-hour is currently collecting $960 per week. People who earned $11.50-an-hour are getting the maximum $461 a week in unemployment benefits, plus the $600 per week stimulus checks. Adults also recently received a $1,200 stimulus check, plus another $500 for each dependent.

Welch said even with federal assistance, many New Mexicans are still struggling right now. “This highlights how low people are being paid, and how it’s not enough to support their family, and how unemployment is not regularly, providing the safety net that families need when they lose their job,” Welch said.

According to Workforce Solutions as of Friday, 79,806 people are now receiving unemployment in New Mexico, more than we saw during the height of the recession. Another 123,816 unemployment cases are still pending.

Information from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham press conference April 24, 2020

The New York Times recently did a state-by-state comparison, ranking New Mexico in the top three states for the percentage of people who will make more money in unemployment than they did at their jobs. The $600 a week stimulus check for people who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 will continue through July 31.

Welch said she hopes unemployment and minimum wage will be re-evaluated after this pandemic. “It will be a silver lining that comes out of this pandemic if we can all finally recognize how important we all are to each other, and that we should all be paid accordingly,” said Welch.