Raising the Minimum Wage Would Boost New Jersey’s Working Men and Women

Inadequate wage floor keeps many workers in poverty.

Published on Feb 4, 2016 in Economic Justice

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In 2013 New Jerseyans overwhelmingly voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and tie the wage floor to future increases in the cost of living. The increase was a big victory for New Jersey’s low-wage workers, but the current minimum wage of $8.38 an hour – or $17,430 a year if a resident works 40 hours a week every week of the year – still doesn’t cut it in high-cost New Jersey.

• The hourly wage needed for a single adult full-time worker to afford basic needs in New Jersey is at least $13.78, or $28,662 a year – more than one and a half times higher than the current minimum wage.[1]

• In other words, a New Jerseyan working at minimum wage needs to work at least66 hours a week just to avoid destitution and earn enough just to afford basic needs. If that working man or woman also had a spouse and two young children, the adults in the household would need to work at least 146 hours a week at minimum wage just to get by.

• In order to have a more stable household budget, a single adult New Jersey minimum wage worker would need to work at least 94 hours a week– and a family with two young children would need have adults working at least 259 hours a week, or nearly six and a half 40-hour workweeks split between two people.

• New Jersey’s low wage floor isn’t nearly enough for workers to even afford housing in this high-cost state. A Garden State resident would need to work at least 120 hours a week to a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In 7 of New Jersey’s counties, the number of hours required would be even higher.[2]

• An economy reliant on low-wage work harms not only workers and their families, but all of us. Unlike the vast majority of American businesses, low-wage employers have for years happily shifted “normal” business costs like health care and full wages to the American taxpayer. The hidden cost of low-wage work in New Jersey – paid for by taxpayers through public assistance and safety net programs to individuals in working families – is estimated at $3.3 billion a year.While the lion’s share is paid by all of the nation’s taxpayers, with federal program costs coming in at $2.6 billion, state taxpayers are chipping in $726 million – a cost that is significantly underestimated, since it does not take into account the state’s share of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts the take-home pay of working families who aren’t paid enough to make ends meet.[3]

Many Workers Would Benefit from a Higher Minimum Wage

Raising New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour would directly boost the take-home pay of 1 in 3, or 36 percent, of Garden State workers.[4]

New Jersey’s low-wage workers, on the whole, are older and more educated than ever before, due to ongoing shifts in the nature of low-wage work.

An estimated 724,000 New Jerseyans earn less than $11.05 an hour.[5] Of these workers:

87 percent are adults (20 years old and older).

56 percent work full-time (35 hours a week or more). An additional 29 percent work between 20 and 35 hours a week, leaving a small minority – 15 percent – who are working in part-time jobs less than 20 hours a week.

Close to half (44 percent) have attended or graduated from college.

About 1 in 4 (23 percent) are parents, raising about 288,000 children.


[1] United Way of Northern New Jersey, ALICE New Jersey: Study of Financial Hardship.
[2] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2015.
[3] UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, The High Public Cost of Low Wages.
[4] National Employment Law Project, The Growing Movement for $15.
[5] New Jersey Policy Perspective, Increasing the Minimum Wage to $10.10: A Win-Win for New Jersey.

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