Coming Down on Different Sides of Minimum Wage Increase

By David Cruz

The state’s current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If you work a 40-hour week, that’s $290 a week, or $1,160 a month. Before taxes. In a region where the average monthly rent is $1,760. Take away food, transportation and other incidental costs and, well, you do the math. It’s why a broad coalition of labor, elected and other officials are pushing hard for Public Question 2, which would change the state’s constitution to raise the minimum wage to $8.25, and tie future increases to the cost of living, something that newspaper vendor Tony White would welcome.

“It would be nice if was $8.25 for a lot of jobs out here because the minimum wage has been down for a long time. It’s time for the little people to make a little something, ya know? That’s all.”

Tazia Treadwell knows about working for $7.25. She did it for a couple of years at a fast food restaurant just out of high school.

“After two, three months, I got a 10-cent raise, so I was at $7.35 an hour. After two years, no progress. I was was frustrated. I was just out of high school and I was at that stage where I wanted everything new, the latest of everything, and I could barely do that,” Treadwell said.

Then came an unplanned pregnancy. She lives with her mom now, sharing household expenses and luckily, now works as a security guard for $10 an hour.

“It’s a little better. I mean of course it’s still not enough to make ends meet but I stretch it out well enough. I have a 1-year-old daughter and it helps me provide for her. I’m able to get what I need but sometimes it’s not enough and I have to go without but as long as my daughter is provided for I’m good,” Treadwell said.

Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a minimum wage bill last year precipitated the public question. The governor said at the time that the proposal would hurt the state’s economic recovery. Likewise, business groups — who say the constitution is the wrong way to go about hiking the wage — are taking to the airwaves with the same message.

“Raising the minimum wage sounds like a good idea but economic research shows it actually hurts those it’s intended to help,” said one Employment Policies Institute ad.

“On the heels of Sandy, right when the state is trying to recover, and all of a sudden this is now, imposed on the business community, which is not gonna be a plus because businesses are struggling to come back and this is an additional burden on them,” said Tom Bracken President and CEO of the NJ Chamber of Commerce.

Democrats like Senator-elect Cory Booker and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono have been promoting the effort and a coalition of mayors led by Jersey City’s Steve Fulop held a rally in Jersey City to promote the referendum, too. White says he is voting yes.

“They ain’t hurtin’. Believe me. Ain’t too much more they’re gonna give up,” White said.

Estimates are the between 3-6 percent of the work force will be affected by a change in the minimum wage. Enough to have an impact on the state’s economy. Whether that’s for good or ill remains to be seen.