Inquirer Editorial: N.J. should increase state's minimum wage

Posted: February 02, 2012

With transit fares, bridge and road tolls, food, gasoline, and other necessities getting more expensive, it's time for New Jersey's 40,000 minimum-wage workers to receive a long-overdue break.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) is pushing to increase the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. Workers making about $15,080 a year pay the same prices for goods as the average wage earner in New Jersey, who makes $56,385. But they're doing it in one of the most expensive to live in states.

New Jersey last raised its minimum wage three years ago to the current federal minimum wage. But states can go beyond the federal level and 18, including the District of Columbia, have done that. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are not among them.

Oliver would tie New Jersey's minimum wage to increases in the consumer price index, something Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he favors on a national level.

That makes sense when an increasing number of families are relying on minimum-wage jobs because higher-paying employment in manufacturing, government, and construction has declined while the number of lower-paying, service jobs has grown.

Raising the wages of home-health aides, food-service workers, and store clerks also helps fuel consumer spending, an important economic driver.

Critics argue that raising the minimum wage causes employers to cut jobs or workers' hours, but Rutgers Law School economist Philip Harvey says "research shows there's very little negative effect, if any . . . You don't need to worry that it's a job killer."

David P. Cooper, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington adds that, "Raising the floor is really the only thing that's going to raise wages for workers."

Raising the minimum wage would help New Jersey's entire workforce cope with the double whammy of losing income and spending power at the same time.

Oliver has the support of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat. But Gov. Christie has been noncommittal so far. If he decides to give them a fight on this one, they must remain tough. Workers across New Jersey are depending on them.

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