By Jarrett Renshaw, The Star-Ledger
TRENTON — A coalition of lawmakers, labor and social advocacy groups joined together today to call upon New Jersey voters to pass a hike in the minimum wage this fall and to ensure politics won’t delay future increases.
The more than 20 speakers framed the issue as one of economic and social justice, saying the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is pittance and translates to an annual salary far below the federal poverty level. They also said raising the wage creates an economic ripple effect.
“When you give the working poor more money, they spend it,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said.
The state Legislature put a question on the November ballot asking voters to amend the state Constitution to increase the wage from $7.25 to $8.25, followed by automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index.
Gov. Chris Christie nixed the Legislature’s attempt to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, instead suggesting a three-year gradual increase to $8.25. Christie also took out the part of the Legislatures’ bill that included automatic cost of living increases.
Christie campaign spokesman Kevin Roberts said, "Governor Christie offered a responsible path forward for an 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."
The event was purposely held on Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.
The speakers said 60 percent of the state’s 429,000 workers earning the minimum wage are women, many single moms.
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the Democratic candidate for governor, said Christie “has in essence vetoed the hopes and promises of a better life” for tens of thousands of women across the state.
Buono is expected to spend the week focusing on women’s issues, kicking off with today’s event.
Roberts, from the Christie campaign, said, "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."
Regina Thompson-Jenkins, a Trenton resident and local school worker, lost her 19-year-old son to gunfire. She said “poverty begets violence.”
“I see too many parents worrying about paying bills or what they are going to serve for dinner when they want to be focusing on their kids,” she said. “It creates anxiety.”