New Jersey Falls Further Behind as More States Raise the Wage

Voters approved measures that will boost the pay of 2.3 million low-paid workers.

Published on Nov 16, 2016 in Economic Justice

fight-for-15_stockNew Jersey’s already-low minimum wage fell even further behind last week, as voters across the country approved measures raising the wage for 2.3 million low-paid workers, injecting more than $3.5 billion into local economies, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Colorado, Maine, and Arizona, where the minimum wage now ranges from $7.50 to $8.31 per hour, all voted to increase their wages to $12 per hour by 2020. Washington, where the minimum wage is currently $9.47, voted to raise the wage to $13.50 by 2020. And voters in Flagstaff, Arizona, approved a phased-in $15 minimum wage by 2021. In all five locations, the minimum wage will rise with inflation after the initial phase in. Arizona and Washington also required that employers provide paid sick leave for their workers, while Maine and Flagstaff voters also approved eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s minimum wage will not rise from $8.38 to $10.10 an hour on January 1 of next year, thanks to Gov. Christie’s veto pen. Instead, it will increase by 6 cents, to $8.44 an hour. More than 1 million workers will continue to lack access to paid sick leave, and the state’s tipped minimum wage will remain at $2.13 an hour, ensuring that too many workers who rely on tips will continue to earn less than the actual minimum wage.

Even worse,  all of the states that raised the wage last week have a lower cost of living than New Jersey. If you think that sounds backwards, you’re right. Other parts of the country, where it is less expensive to live, are increasing their minimum wage because they recognize how important it is for their workers, businesses, and economy. Here in New Jersey we continue to stall  while low-paid workers and the state’s economy suffer.

The opponents of raising the minimum wage in New Jersey contend that doing so would lead to job losses and hurt our economy – a well-worn argument that has been repeatedly proven wrong. The last time New Jersey raised its minimum wage, opponents stated emphatically that doing so would lead to a loss of 30,000 jobs. Instead, the state gained 90,000 jobs as low-wage workers were able to afford more of their day-to-day needs.

Even some who acknowledge that increasing the minimum wage is necessary suggest that raising it to $15 would do more harm than good. They’re wrong.

The simple fact is that, right now, for a single-adult worker with no children to afford basic daily needs in New Jersey, they need to earn at least $13.78 per hour. By 2021, there will be no part of the state, from Cape May to High Point, where a childless adult worker can get by on less than $15 an hour. In fact, projections show that the minimum hourly rate for a single adult to afford basic needs in 2021 will be $16.27, and that figure goes as high $22.36 when looking at more expensive parts of the state.

It is way past time for New Jersey to ensure that all its workers are paid fairly. The longer we stall, the longer we’ll delay the much needed boost our workers, families, businesses, and economy deserve. Other states have shown the good sense to take action; our policymakers must act and implement this common-sense policy before we fall even further behind.