By. Charles Wowkanech
I am simply stunned that The Press of Atlantic City would abandon the single mothers and other low-income workers in southern New Jersey who barely make enough money to put food on the table - let alone have a few quarters left over to buy a copy of The Press. The Oct. 15 editorial, "Public Question No. 2/A reluctant 'no,'" stated that a minimum-wage increase might be good in "theory," but that a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage is "not the way to do it."
Really? Here are the facts. Do the editors know that Atlantic County is one of only six counties in the state with a poverty rate over 30 percent? Do they understand that our state currently has a poverty rate higher than at any point in the last 52 years? Do they understand that raising the minimum wage is one of the best ways to combat poverty in our state - regardless if it is done by legislation or by constitutional amendment?
The minimum-wage in New Jersey hasn't changed since 2005. Yet, 19 states and the District of Columbia have raised their respective minimum wages higher than New Jersey's, despite our state having a cost of living that is one of the top three in the nation.
The reason New Jersey hasn't increased its minimum wage is simple: politics. That's why a constitutional amendment is needed here - to stop politics as usual and bring the decision directly to the workers of this state.
Democratic lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year to increase the minimum wage by $1.25 in 2014 (not a single Republican voted in favor), but Gov. Chris Christie refused to sign it. What did he offer? A $10 a week raise in 2014. That's right - $10 a week. Under his recommendation, it would have taken three years to see a $1-an-hour raise.
So let's be honest. As long as Christie is governor, the minimum wage will be a poverty wage. Nothing more. So after Christie offered some crumbs to low-income workers, the Legislature had no other choice but to place the issue before the voters via a constitutional amendment.
When I talk with minimum-wage workers, they could care less about how the wage would be increased (either by legislation or the constitution). All they care about is trying to make a better life for their families.
Think about this: It costs approximately $5 for a child to ride a Ferris wheel here at the Jersey shore. A single mother would need to work 45 minutes just so her child can have two minutes of fun. This doesn't factor in the cost of transportation. In total, she would need to plan and save for several weeks just to take her child to the boardwalk. Unfortunately, the reality is because she needs every last cent for essentials, such as food, utilities and rent - all of which have increased dramatically since the last minimum-wage increase, it is likely that the money will never get saved and that child will never experience what many of our families take for granted.
Public Question No. 2 would add $1 more per hour to this woman's paycheck immediately and include future cost-of-living increases. This plan provides some relief and would help raise this family out of poverty. This woman, and approximately 429,000 workers just like her, would benefit from the passage of this public question.
Without a raise in the minimum wage, more and more low-income workers will end up earning below the poverty line and start collecting state and federal aid. They'll be down to the basics - and the basics do not include buying The Press. On Nov. 5, vote yes on Public Question No. 2.
Charles Wowkanech is president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.