Inquirer Editorial: Working poor deserve minimum-wage increase

MEL EVANS / Associated Press
MEL EVANS / Associated Press
Posted: January 24, 2013

Ten states, including Florida, Colorado, Montana, and Vermont, earlier this month raised their minimum wages above the unlivable level of $7.25 an hour that workers in New Jersey now receive.

Gov. Christie should take the opportunity to help more than 300,000 struggling workers in New Jersey by signing a bill passed by the Legislature that would bring the state's minimum wage up to $8.50 an hour and allow for additional cost-of-living increases in the future.

Christie has until Monday to sign the bill and show state residents that the depth of his compassion can reach down to those hard-working New Jerseyans who are patching multiple jobs together and often standing in line for long periods at food banks to make ends meet.

The Legislature also approved a bill that would allow voters to approve a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage in a referendum that would be held at the same time as the next gubernatorial election. Polling shows strong public support for raising the minimum wage.

But amending the constitution is too cumbersome a process. If the state wanted to change the minimum wage during an economic crisis, there might not be enough time to make that change. And strapping the minimum-wage onto the state constitution could rob the government of flexibility it might need to make related fiscal decisions that impact what employers must pay workers.

New Jersey's unemployment rate - 9.6 percent in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics - has stubbornly remained higher than the national rate, which was 7.8 percent. While some in the business community have argued that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment, that myth has been exposed as false time and again by economists.

Unemployment has actually gone down in eight states where the minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum and is tied to the cost of living. Those states include Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, where the cost of living is lower than it is in New Jersey.

The governor also should know that raising the minimum wage puts more money into the economy as low-income workers spend their paychecks on necessities.

Christie has been a strong advocate of helping New Jerseyans who needed help after Superstorm Sandy, so he should understand how granting a tiny raise to the working poor could greatly improve their quality of life. The wage hike deserves his signature.

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