The minimum wage in New Jersey rose to $10 on July 1 – the first increment mandated by legislation passed earlier this year that would bring the state to a $15 floor by 2024.
The hike benefited up to 1 million working families in New Jersey. Indeed, raising the minimum wage is an effective way to provide economic stimulus at the lower end of the economic spectrum. It provides a boost for families left behind after years of wage stagnation and government policies – like the Trump tax cuts -- that have benefited high earners at the expense of everyone else.
Six states, New York City and the District of Columbia have now legislated a path to a $15 minimum and some of the country’s corporate giants, like Amazon and Costco, have already set the bar at $15. Clearly there is momentum: 29 states have minimum wages that are higher than the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.
It’s time to level the playing field. The House of Representatives could vote this week on phasing in an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 – a move that could affect about a quarter of the workforce nationally and lift all boats.
Ten of the New Jersey’s 12 congressional representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, the exceptions being Democrat Jeff Van Drew and the state’s only GOP congressman, Chris Smith. Why should New Jersey, already on its way to a $15 minimum wage, have to compete with low-wage states like neighboring Pennsylvania, where the minimum is just $7.25? Our representatives – all of them -- need to step up and protect New Jersey’s employers and workers and support a nationwide $15 minimum.
The gains made here and elsewhere were hard won, with working people and their unions pushing legislators and corporate executives each step of the way.
At the SEIU NJ State Council we worked with other labor groups and allies to push our legislature to do the right thing. In February, Gov. Murphy signed the watershed bill mandating $15 over the next five years. Many of our members who do critical jobs for low pay – nursing home and warehouse workers, school cafeteria aides and more – will benefit directly from the increases .
But we need to ensure that those gains aren’t diluted by competition from low-wage states. The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in a decade. Adjusting for inflation, the buying power of the minimum wage is about 29 percent less than it was 50 years ago, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Now that the dust has settled over the Trump tax cuts, it’s clear that they were a boon to corporate stockholders but did little to benefit working families. There was no surge in investment, job growth or wages -- only corporate profits and huge revenue deficits for the federal government.
The overwhelming majority of those who earn minimum wage in the United States are adults and $7.25 doesn’t come close to paying adult bills. An increase would particularly help those who have historically been left out of economic prosperity, such as communities of color and women.
Those who form the backbone of our economy deserve a living wage. More than 12 million workers in construction, manufacturing, education and health care would see a raise if the federal minimum is hiked, according to estimates from the National Employment Law Project. The increase would also boost pay for other essential workers in jobs where median pay is low -- from child care and retail workers to bank tellers.
The bump from $290 a week for full-time work to $600 could help millions of families stave off poverty and provide a boost that could ripple through the economy. The economic benefits – both macro and micro – outweigh exaggerated concerns about job loss.
The hike won’t make anyone rich, or even solidly middle class, especially in high cost regions like the Northeast. But it will help millions of families afford the basics of food, shelter and clothing. And it will reduce, in some cases, dependence on government subsidies like food stamps.
Our president likes to boast of a strong GDP, so why not now? Business and state leaders across the country realize that the time has come for higher minimum wages.
The time is now to raise the federal minimum wage.
Wilfredo Larancuent is president of the SEIU New Jersey State Council, comprised of unions representing 23,000 service workers in public and private employ in the state.