POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Democratic leaders call for $15 minimum wage

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Congressman Donald Norcross called a news conference Monday to discuss the state minimum wage.

“We have together with us today the trio of leadership that’s going to lead New Jersey into the next decade, and they’re going to do what’s right. They’re going to raise wages,” said Norcross.

The two legislative leaders for next year and the governor-elect are completely on board. The goal: $15 minimum wage.

“I’ve been asked a lot on the campaign trail from folks who didn’t see it in quite the same way as we all do, ‘What’s the magic about $15?’ And I would answer back, ‘What’s the magic about $8.44 or, soon to be, the whopping increase to $8.60?'” said Governor-elect Phil Murphy.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hasn’t been raised in over a decade. New Jersey’s is $8.44 and rises with inflation thanks to a ballot question passed four years ago.

“In 2013, despite a well-funded opposition campaign, public question no. 2 passed with 61 percent of the vote. Despite that, 20 states now have a higher minimum wage than New Jersey and 14 are on their way to raising the minimum wage by 2022 to somewhere between $9 and $15,” said Assembly Speaker-Designate Craig Coughlin.

Several minimum wage workers told their stories.

“There are almost one million workers like me in New Jersey who love our jobs, but make less than $15 an hour. It’s impossible to make ends meet off of that,” said Leslie Hall, an employee at a school cafeteria in Trenton.

You adapt, one said.

“I can’t afford chicken, so I buy beans and rice instead. I don’t have the money to go to the laundromat, so there are times I hand wash my clothes,” said Ella Morton, a nursing home employee.

A small business representative says hiking the minimum wage will hurt her members and cost jobs.

“A minimum wage has never been meant to be a living wage. The largest percentage of people that do make minimum wage are people with second incomes in the house or young people and it’s supposed to be a starting wage. So, people can’t live on that wage, but it’s meant to be a starting wage so they can work their way up,” said Laurie Ehlbeck, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“The last time we raised the minimum wage, the business community will tell you it’s going to cost a lot of jobs. In fact, they predicted we were going to lose 34,000 jobs. We actually grew 60,000. [That’s] because when people are making more money they happen to spend it,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Murphy told reporters he’d like to see the $15 minimum phased in over three to four years.

“Doing it over a period of years is responsible. We appreciate the fact that you can’t get from here to there overnight. It’s too much sticker shock. We accept that. We understand it. And we look at what’s been done elsewhere,” he said.

This was the first time the three Democratic leaders stood together on an issue. If they can hold together on it, a $15 minimum wage phase-in could become law early next year.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.