By Desiree Taylor
2014 started out on a bright note for an estimated 250,000 low wage workers in New Jersey. The state minimum wage jumped a dollar, from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour. For many residents, including gas station attendant Lucky Singh, it’s a real boost.
“I am very happy because before only $7.25, living very expensive. That’s why now I am very happy,” said Singh.
On whether the hike in minimum wage is good news Metuchen resident Nicole Wasserman said, “Yeah, of course.”
This is also a good day for Senate president Steve Sweeney. He led the push to get this issue put on the ballot after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure. Voters overwhelmingly supported the constitutional amendment which locks in annual cost of living increases for minimum wage workers.
“It was a 12 year journey and the people of the state supported it, When they say it didn’t belong in the constitution, that’s some of the arguments, well it’s not true, a constitution is meant to better community and the state, people where you live, so for me it’s an amazing day,” said Sweeney.
Indeed the minimum wage increase didn’t come without a fight. Business groups and leaders across the state rallied against it, saying some business owners can’t afford it. As a result, thousands of jobs could be lost and hiring may slow down.
“The cost of their labor goes up 14 percent and every year thereafter it goes up forever. If you’re not increasing your sales by 14 percent you’re going to have to make difficult decision,” said Jack Mozloom of the NJ Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“I remember when we did minimum wage last time, the business community said world will come to end, it didn’t,” said Sweeney.
The raise puts an extra $900 a year into the pockets of minimum wage workers – money Sweeney says they’ll spend on gas, food, and other basics, adding more cash to the local economy. Opponents disagree, saying it won’t add up to much. Residents have mixed opinions.
“I feel that the people that need it could really use it and that’s good but I’m afraid it’s going to affect the prices for everything else,” said Bridgewater Resident Margaret Luciano.
“A lot of these people, older people like me, younger people are working minimum wage jobs and they’re struggling to survive and still relying on food stamps,” said Metuchen resident Anthony Brown.
It’s been about five years since the last minimum wage hike in New Jersey. 13 other states also intend to raise their minimum wage, even as Democrats in Washington push to boost the fed rate from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.