PASSAIC — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono today called it an “atrocity” that New Jersey’s minimum wage is not higher than the federal minimum, joining other politicians and labor leaders in urging voters to approve a pay hike when it appears on the ballot this November.
Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County, said the $7.25 minimum hourly wage is not nearly enough in a state with one of the highest costs of living.
“And I think it’s an embarrassment that 19 other states have a higher minimum wage than the state of New Jersey. Higher,” she said . “We have mothers and fathers working 40, 50, 60 hours a week in this state, and yet they still have to rely on food stamps and live in public housing. People are struggling to put food on the table, a roof over their children’s heads.”
Buono spoke at a news conference organized by Working Families United for New Jersey. The group is running a statewide campaign to convince voters to approve a referendum this fall that would raise the state’s minimum wage by $1, to $8.25 per hour, and allow for cost of living increases in the future.
“We can do better. We must do better,” Buono said. “7.25 an hour isn’t living. It’s surviving, it’s subsisting. So increasing the minimum wage is about fairness, it’s about justice, it’s about uplifting the working people of New Jersey.”
If voters approve the increase when the question appears on the ballot on Nov. 5, the state constitution would be amended to trigger automatic cost-of-living increases every year based on the Consumer Price Index. The changes would begin in September 2014.
The left-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective estimates 241,000 workers in New Jersey would directly benefit from the increase, while an additional 188,000 people would likely see their wages rise because pay scales would slide upward.
Gov. Chris Christie, conservative lawmakers and business groups have claimed the state is still on weak economic ground that could not support a sudden pay bump. Some employers have said they would end up laying off workers.
Some employers have said they would end up laying off workers. In January, the governor vetoed a minimum-wage increase passed by Democrats, offering instead a dollar and hour bump phased in over three years.
"Gov. Christie offered a responsible path forward for a phased-in increase of the minimum wage, along with an increase in the earned income credit for working families, that protects the steady progress we've made in our economic recovery and private sector job creation," Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie's campaign, said in a statement today. "Barbara Buono and her colleagues in the Legislature rejected that commonsense approach, choosing instead to politicize and grandstand on the issue, just as you saw today."
Buono and others who spoke today said a quick bump in pay would help the economy. Charles Hall, the chairman of the Working Families group, said the wage increase would put more cash in the hands of people who are most likely to spend, rather than stash it away for a rainy day. And he said previous wage increases prove the sky won’t fall.
“It’s always the end of the world scenario,” Hall said. “We say just the opposite. We say it’s going to stimulate the economy.”