Senate may phase-in $15 minimum wage by 2021

A plan to phase-in a $15 an hour minimum wage by 2021 will be acted on by a Senate committee on Monday, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joseph Vitale said today, putting in motion a concerted effort to boost the pay of low-wage workers through legislation or, if necessary, with an amendment to the state constitution.

“This is an issue of financial fairness and economic equality,” said Senator Sweeney, who authored the prior two increases. “New Jersey workers deserve to be paid a living wage that enables them to support themselves and their families. No one who works a full-time job should be living in poverty, especially at a time when so much of the nation’s wealth flows up to the richest one percent.”

The Senate Labor Committee will meet on Monday, May 16, at 11:30 a.m. in Committee Room 6 of the State House Annex in Trenton to consider the bill, S-15. If the governor follows through on his threat to veto the legislation, Democrats in the Legislature will work to put the proposal on the ballot for voter approval as a constitutional amendment, the same process used to attain the previous increase, Sweeney said.

“We need to close the widening gap of income inequality and this will help,” said Vitale. “We all know how much it costs to support your family and care for your children. Imagine trying to get by on $335 a week, or $17,000 a year, which is what a full-time, minimum wage worker earns. That is not a livable wage and that is no way for working people to live.”

This bill would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 on January 1, 2017. From January 1, 2018 until 2021, it would be increased annually by $1.25 per hour or $1 per hour, plus any increase in the Consumer Price Index. After 2021 the wage would be increased by any upward change in the CPI.  If the federal minimum wage is raised higher than the state, then the state minimum wage would be set to the federal standard and increases to the CPI would be applied to the federal wage rate.

New Jersey would lag years behind a movement in other states and nationwide to raise the pay of minimum wage workers. California recently enacted a $15 statewide minimum and New York put in place a similar requirement for New York City and its suburbs.

Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Donald Norcross of New Jersey are proposing a future $15 wage requirement nationally. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton backs a national rate of $12 per hour while Republicans, by and large, are skeptical about raising the minimum wage, though Donald Trump said on May 8 that he “would like to see an increase of some magnitude, but I’d rather leave it to the states.”

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and the lowest hourly wage an employer can pay an employee for work in New Jersey is $8.38.

The New Jersey Policy Perspective group contends that the Garden State’s current minimum wage – which pays $17,430 a year if a resident works 40 hours a week every week of the year – doesn’t go nearly far enough..

By the group’s estimation, the hourly wage needed for a single adult full-time worker to afford basic needs in New Jersey is at least $13.78, or $28,662 a year – more than one and a half times higher than the current minimum wage.

If enacted, a $15 minimum would boost take-home pay for one in three workers, including 724,000 who earn less than $11.05 an hour, according to NJPP. About 87 percent of those workers are adults aged 20 years and older; more than half (56 percent) work full-time; and nearly half (44 percent) attended or graduated from college. About 1 in 4 are parents raising about 288,000 children.

“I think the one thing we know is that the current minimum wage in New Jersey is nowhere near what workers need to actually be economically secure, and that often minimum wage workers are, you know, working several jobs in order to try to make ends meet,” said Mary Gatta, a sociology professor at the City University of New York who lives in West Long Branch.


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