The economic statistics, especially on poverty and for the working poor in New Jersey, are bleak:
• Between 2000 and 2009, the income share of the top 20 percent of household incomes in New Jersey increased from 48.6 percent to 50.2 percent, according to the Poverty Research Institute of the Legal Services of New Jersey. All others, the bottom 80 percent, lost income share.
• Nearly one-third of New Jerseyans — 2.7 million — are living in poverty, more than at any time in the past five decades, according to an LSNJ study. Cumberland County has the second highest poverty rate in the state, with 37 percent of households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — the level estimated to be needed to really meet living expenses in the state.
• There are between 630,000 and 780,000 New Jersey children living in poverty-plagued households.
• The total number of people in low-income working families in the United states stands at 47.5 million, and could reach 50 million in a few years, according to The Working Poor Families Project. This means that nearly one-third of all working families are struggling to meet basic needs. Low-wage jobs typically offer few benefits and limited opportunities for advancement.
These are just some of the reasons why we support the November constitutional referendum that would raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 an hour, with annual automatic adjustments tied to the Consumer Price Index.
An extra $40 a week means two more complete dinners for a family of four, extra cash to buy needed medicine for sick children or a full tank of gas — making a world of difference for families living paycheck to paycheck and on the economic edge.
Economists are divided on whether raising the minimum wage by a dollar will hurt the economy and cost jobs. Some have said $10 an hour would be the threshold that would start to really cost jobs. New Jersey voters seem to agree, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll that found 65 percent of registered voters saying they will vote in favor of the measure. A majority of voters (67 percent) also disagree with a coalition of business groups who say thousands of jobs will be lost if the measure is approved.
Those who oppose raising the minimum wage also cite the competitive economic disadvantage that would be created, but Florida and Nevada have higher minimum wages than New Jersey’s $7.25 and the cost of living in those states is lower. And at least 10 states in one form or another tie their annual rate adjustments to the Consumer Price Index. In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal rate, the same as New Jersey’s, to $9 per hour and allowing for inflation increases.
The voter referendum could have been avoided, if the Republican governor and Democratic-controlled Legislature had worked together to raise the needed minimum wage increase as it has always been done — through the legislative process. Unfortunately, and sadly, that wasn’t to be in today’s toxic political climate in Trenton and Washington, D.C.
A higher minimum wage in New Jersey is necessary for many workers struggling to put food on the table for their families and keep their heads above water. That’s why voters should approve the referendum in November, raising the minimum wage by $1 and tying automatic annual adjustments to the Consumer Price Index. It’s the right thing and will help the most vulnerable, low-wage workers in the state.