While most of this year's election coverage is focused on how many points Chris Christie will defeat Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by, getting overlooked is an important ballot question that could enhance the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans by the end of Election Day.
Up for vote is whether New Jersey's minimum wage, a paltry $7.25 in one of the most expensive states to live in the country, should be increased by $1 to $8.25, with automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index.
Everyone should vote "yes" without a second thought.
Keep in mind that $7.25 an hour amounts to $15,080 a year for full-timers working 40 hours a week. As Buono has noted, "That's not a living wage. That's a starving wage." According to NJ Spotlight, 241,000 New Jerseyans make between $7.25 and $8.25 an hour, and would be immediately affected, as would the 188,000 or so additional workers who make between $8.25 and $9.25 an hour.
Obviously, we have the same tired Chamber of Commerce voices crying about the end of civilization if we force businesses to shell out an extra $1 an hour to their employees. By and large, it's nonsense.
Recall that companies like the National Association of Manufactures argued back in the 1930s that enacting a minimum wage law "constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism." Backwards Congressman like Georgia Democrat Edward Cox said creating a minimum wage would "destroy small industry" and warned that it would replace our free market, exploit workers economy to "Red Labor communistic despotism."
Of course, they were wrong, as are the various groups in New Jersey running ads against the so-called Public Question No. 2.
First of all, since two-thirds of low-wage workers actually work for large corporations, increasing the minimum wage will have little impact on small businesses in the state. In fact, the three largest employers of low-wage workers, McDonalds, Walmart and Yum! Brands (which owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, among others) have all enjoyed record profits since the recession, enabling them to afford higher wages for their workers.
Hold on one minute, Rob. Won't raising the minimum wage kill job growth in New Jersey because employees will be more expensive? Well, study after study shows that raising the minimum wage doesn't kill jobs. In fact, an analysis of state minimum wage increases over the years of states that increased their wages above the federal minimum "had job growth slightly above the national average."
In fact, a panel of 40 economic experts surveyed regularly by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (hardly a liberal bastion), ruling on President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $9, said the benefits to workers and the economy overwhelmingly outweigh any potential costs.
Also, how has our state economy faired under Christie's veto-happy tutelage, where we keep both the minimum wage and taxes on millionaires low? With an unemployment rate still hovering above the national average at 8.5 percent, it might be time to try a new approach.
One major benefit of an increase in the minimum wage is it puts more money in the hands of those most likely to spend it - working poor. Since most live paycheck-to-paycheck, that money would almost immediately re-enter the local economy to afford basic necessities like food, housing, clothing and transportation (especially with Christie's public transportation hikes).
Another important aspect of the ballot question is indexing the minimum wage to the rising cost of inflation, which is essential now more than ever considering the disfunction in Washington. Keep in mind the federal minimum wage would be $10.74 an hour if it kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, and because of congressional inaction it was stuck at $5.15 an hour for ten years before finally seeing an increase in 2007.
Fortunately, New Jersey voters aren't buying the doom-and-gloom greed coming from business groups. Two polls just released in late September show voters overwhelmingly favor the amendment, leading Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, to say, "The minimum wage amendment is set to pass by a substantial margin. New Jersey voters simply do not accept the business community's prediction of dire consequences."
Let's hope so. A minimum wage hike, even a fairly tame $1 increase, will be good for workers, good for businesses and benefit our entire economy. Even the businesses that think it will lead to their demise. You're welcome.