Inquirer Editorial: N.J. may be on verge of minimum-wage hike

Stephen Sweeney
Stephen Sweeney
Posted: November 16, 2012

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) has wisely agreed to post a bill that would increase the state's minimum wage much faster than his proposal to embed the pay hike in the state constitution.

The bill increasing the lowest-paid workers' wages from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour has been ready for Senate action since May, when the Assembly passed it. But Sweeney delayed scheduling it because he was concerned that Gov. Christie would veto it or strip out cost-of-living increases.

Sweeney earlier proposed changing the state constitution to allow for automatic minimum-wage adjustments tied to increases in the consumer price index. But that plan would create a cumbersome and lengthy legislative process to stop automatic pay hikes when the economy is bad. While not abandoning his idea, Sweeney is moving forward with the bill, which may pass in a Senate committee next week.

Swift action is needed to help the estimated 307,000 New Jerseyans earning less than $8.50 an hour in one of the nation's most expensive states. New Jersey has the 11th highest income disparity in the nation. A recent New Jersey Policy Perspective study notes that stagnant wages for the state's poor and middle classes were a major factor in widening the gap between the top fifth of earners and the bottom fifth.

Economists say raising the minimum wage would pump more cash into the state because low-wage earners tend to spend most of their income on necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. New Jersey hasn't raised its minimum wage since 2005, but the federal minimum wage was raised in 2009.

If the legislation passes, Christie should sign it. New Jersey would join 18 other states that have raised their minimum wage and instituted automatic cost-of-living increases. The state's working poor need that break.

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