The minimum wage haggle must stop now: Make $15 a reality | Editorial

Posted Jan 7, 2019

The hourly minimum wage in New Jersey received a 25-cent tweak Tuesday, which works out to another $10 per week, undoubtedly a great comfort for those who can now buy their families an extra medium-sized pizza each Friday.

There are hundreds of thousands of workers in our state making the new $8.85 minimum wage, and if our elected officials consider that sufficient, they either lack a functioning moral compass or their status as “government leaders” implies a vigor they do not possess.

Let’s assume neither is the case. The governor campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 before it was politically palatable. The Legislature actually put it in writing two years ago, before the last governor vetoed it. Everyone wants to see $15 become a reality. The tangle is all about which workers can be left out, and how long it will take for the people they deem unworthy of a livable wage to achieve something resembling dignity and solvency.

So as they resume these lordly deliberations on Thursday, one year after this political pie fight began, they should all remember the state of play as we head into the Legislature’s next voting session on Jan. 31:

Raising the wage to $15 will improve the lives of 1,047,000 people – 792,000 of them immediately, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective. These are not kids filling the interval between 9th and 10th grade. Nearly all of them (94 percent) of them are adults, and 64 percent of them work full-time. Half of them have attended or graduated from college, and one out of three are raising children.

As the saying goes, these people are not looking for a handout, they’re looking for a hand up. If a $15 wage is good enough for New York Citytoday – and for Long Island and Westchester in 2021 - it is good enough for New Jersey’s workers.

Moreover: Productivity has soared 77 percent since 1973, while hourly pay has grown only 12 percent in that time. That means if the federal minimum wage kept pace with productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour – not the $7.25-an-hour insult this country has used as its standard for a decade.

Finally, the statewide impact is profound. If everyone currently making the minimum is included in this increase, NJPP calculates that $3.9 billion will be added to the New Jersey economy by low-income workers who aren’t paid enough to purchase their basic daily needs.

It's almost unimaginable that this debate is entering its second year.

Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin last met on Dec. 13, and some progress was made in bridging their divides. Sweeney admitted as much on NJTV, conceding “We all felt we were very close to a final agreement” after taking another swipe at the governor’s slick TV ads endorsing a Clean 15 for all workers. One assumes his compromises inspired Murphy to immediately go on vacation.

But everyone knows where the ‘give’ is here. The bill authored by Coughlin and embraced by Sweeney increases wages each year for most workers, topping out at $15.00 per hour in 2024. But the increase for farm labor, seasonal workers, teens, and employees at businesses with fewer than 10 workers is glacial, and they wouldn’t reach $15 until 2029 - at which time $15 will be worth $11.71 in today’s dollars, based on 2.5 percent inflation. Such largesse.

The Three Amigos must make this their 2019 priority, focusing on carveouts and trimming that absurd 10-year ramp-up. But they should start by agreeing that there is no conceptual fissure here: After five decades of wage stagnation, the costs of basic needs such as housing, food, health care are soaring. This is no longer sustainable. It’s time to make “working poor” an anachronism in New Jersey.


Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment