Brendan Gill guest editorial: Raise the wage

By. Brendan Gil

October 19, 2013
October 19, 2013

New Jersey voters deserve a raise. That's why I sponsored a resolution on the Essex County freeholder board, calling on all our residents to join me in voting to approve a wage increase, something that one Nobel Prize-winning economist says would have "overwhelmingly positive effects" for our economy.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Public Question Number 2 asks New Jersey voters to raise the minimum wage by a modest $1. Approving this ballot measure will boost economic activity by over $230 million during 2014 alone, and tying the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index will ensure that working families' wages keep up with the cost of living.

I could expand on the benefits, but the issue is clear and the choice is simple: on Nov. 5, raise the wage.

Families understand the simple fact of the matter: things aren't getting cheaper. At $7.25 an hour, current law has pushed some families to the poverty line, which is ironic, considering that the Garden State is America's fifth priciest.

Something isn't right when a parent needs to triple her income just to feed her child. That usually means getting another job - or two. For many, that means finding an affordable childcare center - which is difficult, considering that the average cost of these services has gone up 80 percent since the mid-1990s, while the wage rate has been far from keeping pace. In a state where unemployment remains above 8 percent (higher than the national average), this is simply not sustainable.

Even with this increase in the minimum wage, though, the lowest legal compensation for hourly work will not be the end all solution for families who still have mortgage debt to pay off or credit card fees left unsettled. The fact is, basic pay needs to keep up with basic expenses and right now, that's not happening.

Opponents of a wage increase argue that businesses will lay off workers and that unemployment will rise even higher, faster. The evidence states otherwise.

Since the 1990s, studies have concluded, time and again, that there is "little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects" of workers. On the contrary, 300,000 children across New Jersey would have their lives improved thanks to this wage increase for their caretakers. For some families, that could be as much as $200 a month, and at a time when phone bills and trips to the supermarket are swallowing ever-larger shares of take-home pay, I hesitate to argue that our workers couldn't use a modest pay raise. Even if it's a small increase, it's a positive step forward.

With the effective cost of living going up, and with property tax relief a thing of the past for many New Jersey families, "Yes" is the most sensible way to vote on Ballot Question 2 this year. So today, I ask that you join me in voting "Yes" to Ballot Question 2 on Nov. 5th.

It only makes sense, and it's the right thing to do.

A Montclair resident, Brendan Gill represents Bloomfield, Belleville, Glen Ridge, Nutley, and Montclair on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. He also serves as chairman of the Montclair Democratic Party.
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