On the Constitution and the Minimum Wage
An abridged version of this response ran as a Letter to the Editor in the Star-Ledger.
The Rick Berman-backed D.C. group known as the Employment Policies Institute wants readers to believe three things about the referendum to increase New Jersey’s minimum wage from a paltry $7.25 per hour to a less paltry $8.25 with an escalator for inflation going forward. First, the minimum wage is relevant primarily to teenagers; second, that deciding the question by referendum is wrong, bordering on sinful; and third, that NJPP has “flip-flopped” on supporting a constitutional amendment on this issue.
Opponents of the minimum wage increase assert that passage will destroy the employment opportunities of teenagers. The problem with this argument: 80 percent of the workers who would benefit from a hike in the minimum wage are adults, almost a quarter of them are parents and almost three out of four have finished high school, attended, or graduated from college.
Opponents ignore the radical shift in the jobs market as jobs paying a middle-class wage have shrunk. Or maybe they haven’t noticed who is actually pushing the wheelchairs at airports, pumping your gas or, even, taking your Whopper order.
The Employment Policies Institute also argues that there is only one way to change the minimum wage: through the legislative process. And further, says that NJPP’s focus on helping working families as soon and as much as possible is choosing “politics over sound policy.”
The Institute points to an op-ed I wrote for the Bergen Record last year which read, in part, “the constitution is no place to settle issues like the minimum wage.” At the time, NJPP was urging the legislature to do its job and pass its bill to raise the wage on January 1, 2013. That bill – which would have raised the wage to $8.50 per hour and included automatic future cost-of-living increases – was the best of several options on the table for New Jersey’s low-wage workers.
The legislature did pass the measure, and the governor conditionally vetoed it, preferring a wage increase that would hardly be noticeable since it was spread out over three years and, crucially, one without cost-of-living increases. Knowing that the governor would do something along these lines, the legislature at the same time advanced the ability to put the wage increase directly to the voters. That’s the ballot initiative that we’ll all get to vote on this fall, and the one that NJPP supports.
Our position has evolved as the facts have evolved.
Simply put: NJPP exists to represent the interests of struggling working families through analysis and advocacy – not to perfect the practices of representative government. Of the options that currently exist (approve the constitutional amendment, concur with the governor’s conditional veto or continue pursuing new legislation), the constitutional route would have the greatest and most immediate positive impact on New Jersey’s low-wage workers. These hard-working New Jerseyans should not have to wait any longer than they already have.