By Brenda Flanagan
For 99,000 New Jersey minimum wage workers like Nancy Vasquez, their pending six-cent raise to $8.44 an hour won’t have much impact in a daily struggle to make ends meet.
“It’s a low blow because you’re going to work every day and then you’re wondering why am I even doing this if I’m still in this situation?” she said.
Brandon McKoy from left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective said, “It’ll help them afford a couple basic daily needs like groceries, maybe a few emergencies here and there. But it really is not enough.”
McKoy says Jersey’s an expensive place to live, and calculates even the most affordable areas require a $14.80 living wage. This six-cent raise — driven by an increase in the national Consumer Price Index — amounts to an extra $402 in 2017.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work. The fact of the matter is a $15 minimum wage is what’s necessary to live in New Jersey,” said McKoy.
“We are not against having an affordable income for the working poor. We’re all for that,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken. “The current minimum wage and the six cents doesn’t get them there, we know that.”
Bracken noted the chamber applauded Gov. Christie’s veto of a $15 minimum wage as a business-killing mandate earlier this year. Bracken says the solution lies somewhere in between.
“What it requires is having the legislature, the administration and the business community and other interested parties sitting down and discussing it in an intelligent way and coming up with something that satisfies all those different constituencies,” Bracken said.
Democrats discussed putting the $15 minimum wage on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and letting voters decide. But Sen. President Steve Sweeney wanted to exclude farm workers, others wanted to exempt restaurant staff and seasonal employees.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Bracken said. “That’s why I think it needs a lot of discussion.”
Airport workers in New Jersey rallied to demand parity with their Port Authority colleagues in New York who will earn $11 an hour next year. Vasquez, a Skycap at Newark Liberty, says it makes no sense for Jersey workers to earn less.
“You know a nurse’s aide, you’re giving out health care that you don’t have. Fast food, you’re dealing with food that you go home and you can’t even feed your kids,” she said.
All the legislative bickering has apparently stalled New Jersey’s $15 an hour movement. And with the entire legislature and the governor’s office up for election in 2017, the issue could stay stalled until the a governor moves in.