On Tuesday, voters will have the opportunity to influence the future of New Jersey far beyond the term of the next governor by endorsing a constitutional amendment setting a state minimum wage with annual cost of living increases.
Public question 2 states, “Do you approve amending the state Constitution to set a state minimum wage rate of at least $8.25 per hour? The amendment also requires annual increases in that rate if there are annual increases in the cost of living.”
If the measure is approved, minimum wage earners would get a $1 an hour raise beginning Jan. 1. Future increases would be linked to the Consumer Price Index — and so eliminate the need for pitched political battle over the issue every few years.
Many business groups oppose the measure.
Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says it’s a “matter of common sense employers cannot be expected to pay higher labor costs every year along with higher taxes, higher insurance, higher gas prices and higher interest rates without any damage to the job market and the economy.“
And yet, full-time minimum-wage earners working face those very same challenges – and have been doing so with the weekly sum of $290 before taxes. Since 2007, the minimum wage has risen by a measly 10 cents, a whopping $4 a week.
An increase from the current $7.25 would mean $40 a week for a full-time worker. That’s hardly enough to support an individual, let alone a family. It would not elevate most workers beyond the poverty level – where nearly one in four N.J. residents is stuck, according to a recent study by Legal Services of New Jersey. But it is a small step toward a living wage, a small measure of dignity in a lifetime of labor.
Business groups have argued that the increase, and subsequent raises, will necessitate reducing workers’ hours or layoffs.
Yet in other states that raised their minimum wage beyond the federal minimum in January 2012, businesses did not experience the dire consequences that have been predicted.
Remember, these workers are also consumers – any extra income will go right back into the local economy. And the vast majority, an estimated 80 percent, are not teenagers earning pocket money, but adults desperately trying to achieve that first rung on the ladder of success.
With the real value of their earnings steadily ebbing, many are trying to climb out of poverty, to reach at least the outlying districts of the rapidly shrinking middle class.
The odds are stacked against them, but voting yes for the minimum wage on Tuesday will help.