While New Jersey has a relatively good reputation for how working women are treated, Republican Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande says improvements can be made. She is hosting forums to generate solutions to the gender wage gap in the business world. She sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss possible solutions, as well as her views on tanning, marijuana and minimum wage.
Casagrande said New Jersey has a lower wage gap between men and women than most of the surrounding states and also has family leave laws that allow for flexibility, but there can always be improvements. “We think we’re in a good place,” she said. “Let’s try to be the best.”
Work still needs to be done to even the playing field, according to Casagrande. “We’re still in a state, we’re still in a nation that has women making up the bottom of the work pyramid. We’re 53 percent of the entry level. But when you get to the top of that pyramid, that number peters out to 16 percent of who’s sitting in those suite offices,” she said. “So we know that the laws we have on the books haven’t quite solved the problem and so we’re going to have some forums to try to get some real world solutions.”
Legislation isn’t the only way to solve the gender gap, Casagrande said. “We’re also going to take a look at how we change cultures and attitudes and women, quite frankly, and teach them themselves that they have to negotiate that first salary,” she said. “When you look at some of those stats that 60 percent of our young men go into that first job ready for a negotiation and the amount of young women that do the same is in the single digits. So there has to be a cultural change and we’re hoping to be a part of that discussion.”
The gender wage gap isn’t a political issue in the sense that Democrats and Republicans disagree, Casagrande said. “What’s great is this really isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue,” she said. “It’s an everyone issue.”
Casagrande’s approach is to make the wage gap an issue of GDP. “If you let us close this wage gap, this is a wage gap that affects your consumers. We are, by and large, the spenders in the New Jersey economy, women,” she said. “So what we’re really looking to do is make this an everyone issue, make this a New Jersey GDP issue and we think we’re going to have some success that way.”
Casagrande also discussed her views on other timely issues. With regard to banning teens from using tanning salons, including for spray tans, she said she believes teens should be banned from tanning beds, but should be able to get spray tans. “Let the teenagers have a safe way to do it,” she said. “Don’t have another ridiculous permission slip for something we don’t even allege is unsafe.”
On the topic of marijuana, Casagrande said she supports efforts to provide medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. “The reality is it costs a fortune any time you arrest someone and prosecute them, appoint public defender and then in certain instances actually pay for the incarceration and we are not actually seeing any results,” she said. “And a lot of people feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime here. These people have very small amounts sometimes and we’re putting them through the rigamarole and we just want to make sure we’re making drug laws that make sense in New Jersey.”
Casagrande opposed a recent measure that would increase the minimum wage by $1.15 per hour starting July 1. “You can’t build a business plan around that,” she said. “For a lot of people who have a lot of minimum wage employees, that’s an enormous monthly labor cost that went up immediately. No steps, no gradation, no notice.”
Casagrande added that she would be willing to discuss raising the minimum wage in the future. “Given more time, given a more reasonable amount, I think it’s something I could talk about, absolutely,” she said.