Legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker to phase-in an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour continued advancing on Thursday, receiving approval from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The measure was approved by the full Assembly last month.
“This is an integral component in our efforts to stop the decline in the middle class and lift working families out of poverty,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “The constitutional minimum wage that we established a few years ago set a floor, not a ceiling. We must ensure that all workers are paid fairly for their labor. We now need to strive for better to reverse the poverty trend in this state.”
Prieto has made combating poverty a key part of the Assembly’s agenda this session.
According to a recent report by Legal Services of New Jersey, more New Jersey residents are in poverty now than in the past five decades.The agency estimates about 2.8 million adults and 800,000 children lived poverty in New Jersey 2014. That’s 40 percent higher than it was before the 2008 Great Recession.
“When businesses fail to pay a living wage, government is forced to fill the gap,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Essentially, taxpayers are subsidizing these low-paying jobs and, in the process, suppressing wages for everyone else in the workforce. It’s not fair for workers or for the taxpayers who end up paying the bill. The American economy works best with a healthy middle class that has money in their pocket to spend.”
New Jersey’s current minimum wage is only a little over a dollar above the federal floor for wages in one of the highest cost states in the country. The take home pay for a full time minimum wage worker is less than $18,000 a year.
According to a report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey, a single New Jerseyan with no children would need to earn $13.78 just to make basic needs like food and shelter.
“With middle class families in decline and the ranks of low-income families growing, it’s time New Jersey took bold action to stop the backsliding and rebuild an economy that works for everyone” said Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen). “It’s not that long ago when American families could live on the earnings of one worker. Today, middle class families with two incomes are struggling to provide for their family. Anyone working hard at a full-time job should, at the least, be able to provide their family with the basics.”
“We must take this step to help working families struggling to make ends meet,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Income inequality is a leading concern, and rightfully so. It’s time for fairness.”
Specifically, the bill (A-15) would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017. From Jan. 1, 2018 until 2021, it would be increased annually by $1.25 per hour or $1 per hour, plus any increase in the Consumer Price Index. After 2021 the wage would be increased by any upward change in the CPI. If the federal minimum wage is raised higher than the state, then the state minimum wage would be set to the federal standard and increases to the CPI would be applied to the federal wage rate.
The legislation now awaits final legislative approval by the full Senate.