BUSINESS & ECONOMY

NJ minimum wage hike starts, heads toward $15 an hour by 2024

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Factory worker Anna Ramirez says the minimum wage increase means the need to put food in the refrigerator won’t compete with having to pay the rent.

“But I’m very happy to say with this salary now with this minimum wage I’ll be able to cover my bills and to help my family,” she said.

High school graduate and movie theater worker Fiona Joseph says the wage hike goes beyond frivolous spending for some teens.

“I’ll be able to afford another book, another phone bill, and act as an emergency fund for my family,” Joseph said.

Starting Monday, New Jersey began fulfilling a gubernatorial campaign promise. The minimum wage has risen by $1.15 an hour to $10 for some 242,000 workers. It climbs by $1 a year until reaching $15 by 2024.

Farm, seasonal and small business workers start seeing increases in six months — reaching $15 by 2026 and 2027.

Tipped restaurant workers get a 50-cent increase now and climb to $5.13 by 2022.

“Today’s increase gives low-wage workers and their families firmer economic ground to stand on,” said Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“It’s estimated that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, there is $1.35 increase in consumer spending,” said Sen. Nellie Pou.

At a restaurant, owner Neil McMahon welcomes paying his workers more, but not the law mandating an increases every year.

“To lock in something when you don’t know what the future holds is very irresponsible. You don’t know what the economy is going to hold for next year or the year after,” MacMahon said.

He describes the impact of Monday’s increase as minimal. But when he’s paying his peak top performers $15 and must pay new hires the same, he says the lack of a gap in wages could cause a problem.

The increase in the minimum wage means somebody has to pay for it. At MacMahon’s restaurant, it means consumers will and so will the restaurant.

“I can’t put in all of what I need because it’ll be sticker shock for my guests,” MacMahon said.

Business leaders say mandating yearly wage hikes could have unintended consequences and bills introduced in the Legislature have support to create so-called off ramps.

“We’re calling for the Legislature to have in place a law that would provide an off ramp or a suspension in a phased-in increase,” said Michael Wallace, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

The state recognizes the wage hike potential impact on the health care and child care industries so it’s added money to cover the extra expense of care. At the federal level, the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for nearly a decade. Congressman Bill Pascrell has a bill to gradually raise it to $15 an hour.

“It is a national outrage that a full-time worker making the minimum wage cannot afford basic life essentials,” said Pascrell.

Pascrell says he hopes Congress follows New Jersey’s lead.