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New Jersey Voters to Decide on Minimum Wage Increase

Momentum continues to build around a minimum wage increase in the days following President Obama’s call to raise the federal level. Today brings good news from the Garden State, where the New Jersey Assembly just approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour, then adjust the wage annually to keep up with inflation. The Senate approved the same proposal last week. Whether New Jersey workers get a raise is now up to the voters: the amendment will be on the ballot this November. (State lawmakers adopted the constitutional amendment strategy after Governor Christie issued a conditional veto of the minimum wage bill the legislature passed last year; the governor has no role in the amendment process.)

A minimum wage of $8.25 per hour would increase a full-time minimum wage worker’s annual pay from $14,500 to $16,500. This $2,000 boost would still not be enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line, and it definitely falls short of a living wage in a state as expensive as New Jersey. Moreover, the proposed constitutional amendment would not change New Jersey’s minimum cash wage for tipped workers, which is just $2.13 per hour. (Though employers would be required to ensure their tipped employees are paid $8.25 per hour, tipped workers are often paid less than the minimum wage due to wage theft and other illegal practices.) Nonetheless, a $1.00 per hour increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage would be an important step in the right direction – and indexing wages to inflation would help ensure that these very modest gains are not erased as the cost of living rises.

Women in New Jersey would especially benefit from a minimum wage increase because they represent the majority of the state’s minimum wage workers. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that nearly half a million workers in New Jersey would get a raise under the amendment, 55 percent of them women. Higher pay for thousands of New Jersey women would help narrow the gap between women’s and men’s earnings in the state – and bigger paychecks for workers would boost New Jersey’s economy and help create more than 1,700 jobs.

With all of these benefits – and no evidence to support contrary claims that a minimum wage increase would cost jobs – it’s no wonder that 76 percent of New Jersey voters surveyed last year supported raising and indexing the minimum wage. I’m hoping the amendment passes with equally strong support in November.