The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour doesn’t allow any American, no matter where they live, to earn enough to support a family in 2015. As a result, cities across the country have become the battleground of a fight to raise wages for those stuck at the bottom.
As momentum continues to grow, members of Congress are finally beginning to propose bolder wage floors. In the past few years, we’ve seen federal proposals move from $10.10 to $12 to, now, $15 an hour.
In New Jersey, a $15 minimum wage would make a tremendous difference to working families.
Currently, a single adult worker in the Garden State has to earn $13.78 an hour just to survive in New Jersey – and even more to thrive, climb to the middle class or care for a family. Raising the wage to $15 an hour would directly boost the take-home pay of more than one in three (36 percent) workers in New Jersey, according to the National Employment Law Project.
While New Jersey’s minimum wage, at $8.38 an hour, is thankfully higher than the federal floor and, crucially, tied to increasing costs of living, it is sorely inadequate for workers in this high-cost state. It’s barely enough to pay the rent. A single adult needs to work more than 110 hours – about three 40-hour weeks – just to meet her basic monthly housing costs, leaving little money for food, transportation or other necessities. For an adult supporting a family, that rises to nearly 150 hours.
When costs continue to rise, yet wages do not, as has been the case for decades, more and more working families fall further behind and are pushed into desperate straits and onto government assistance. Raising the wage to an adequate level is vital to making it possible for people to get ahead.
In the end, the plight of low-wage workers means that their survival rests on all taxpayers providing an outright subsidy to their employers. Without public programs like food stamps (now called “SNAP”), Medicaid or housing vouchers, these working families would surely face homelessness.
Paying these working New Jerseyans enough to meet their basic needs is also good for the economy. As low-wage workers spend more money locally and immediately, businesses earn more money and are able to provide more jobs. And this is more than a theory: Many cities and states with higher minimum wages have seen above-average job growth when compared to their neighbors.
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