By Rita Freedman and Anrish Lebowitz
This November, New Jerseyans have the opportunity to support the economic fortunes of more than 400,000 residents who work for the lowest wages in the state. There is a constitutional amendment on the ballot to increase the minimum wage in New Jersey from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, which also provides an annual cost-of-living adjustment to ensure the minimum wage keeps pace with the cost of basic necessities. The last time the legislature voted to raise the minimum wage was 2005. The minimum wage has simply not kept pace with the cost of living in New Jersey.
The Jewish communities of New Jersey — and indeed across the United States — remember full well the situation confronting so many of our ancestors as they came to this country: the prospects of low wages and hard jobs in the garment trades and other sectors. All of us should remember the difficulties of making ends meet with poor wages, tough economies, and the effort that went into not only getting by but trying to assure a better life for one’s children.
The challenges confronting those who earn the minimum wage today are no less daunting. More than 400,000 hardworking New Jersey men and women of every race, creed, and faith earn the minimum wage, which is lower than those of 19 other states and the District of Columbia, despite the fact that the Garden State’s cost of living is about 30 percent higher than the national average. They are the workers who care for our elderly parents, pump our gas, pick our produce, clean our offices, and wash dishes at restaurants. The vast majority of them work multiple minimum wage jobs to support their families; they are still struggling. They are faced with terrible choices, such as which bills to pay every month, choices about rent or heat or groceries or medicine that none among us should be forced to make.
Poll after poll has shown overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton study found that 77 percent of voters support the amendment, while just 18 percent oppose it. But passing the amendment still won’t be easy because business groups have launched a $500,000 ad campaign to try to convince the public that a higher minimum wage is bad for New Jersey.
Detractors say that raising the minimum wage costs jobs. That is simply not true. According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a non-partisan, non-profit research group, raising the minimum wage would inject more than $276 million into the economy. Workers earning the minimum wage are the most likely group to spend that additional money on household items. The resulting consumer spending would result in an overall increase in the Gross Domestic Product of more than $174 million in 2014. Most of it will be felt in New Jersey.
Detractors also claim that most minimum-wage workers are teenagers or people working for pocket money. That, too, is simply not true: Many are working adults with families to support. New Jersey Policy Perspective found that 77 percent of the people directly affected and 89 percent of those indirectly affected by a minimum wage increase are 20 and older. Moreover, 59 percent of those who would benefit are women — and 38 percent have attended or graduated from college.
Raising the minimum wage in New Jersey by voting “Yes” on Ballot Issue 2 is the just thing to do. In parshat Shoftim, read earlier this month, the Torah proclaims, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” If we are to provide a measure of justice where it counts to the least-well-paid among us, we have to all do our part to ensure passage of this important ballot measure on Nov. 5.
We must partner together with others across the Garden State to ensure that this is approved by the voters. This will only happen if we talk about it with our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure passage. We in the Jewish Labor Committee are proud to support the “Raise the Wage” campaign, and encourage people to learn more and sign up to participate in this important campaign at www.raisethewagenj.org.
It’s the right and just thing to do.