Advocates want NJ minimum wage hiked

July 1, 2008 9:19:24 AM PDT
A worker advocacy group on Tuesday called on New Jersey lawmakers to increase the state's minimum wage to at least $8.50 per hour, then require it to be increased annually to keep pace with inflation. The Raise the Wage Campaign, a coalition of 18 anti-poverty, worker rights, religious and government watchdog organizations, called the current $7.15 minimum wage insufficient to support full-time workers in New Jersey.

Despite the group's plea, a key lawmaker said it's unlikely action would be taken to increase the minimum wage this year.

New Jersey has the nation's 13th highest minimum wage. In December, a state commission said the minimum wage should be increased to $8.25 per hour, which would be the nation's highest, and then boosted annually to keep pace with inflation.

"Unfortunately, the cost of living doesn't take a vacation," said Jon Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

"Working people don't get time off from the struggle to support their families and build a future. The pressure only gets worse, especially for those closer to the bottom than the top of the economic ladder."

The Commission found New Jersey's cost of living has risen 56 percent faster than the state's minimum wage and stated failure to increase the wage amounts to "an inflation-induced pay cut."

Businesses oppose increasing the minimum wage, saying it will boost prices and force employers to cut jobs.

"In the middle of a recession and with the cost of everything rising quickly, especially fuel, employers can't absorb the financial impact of raising the minimum wage," said Kevin Friedlander of New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. "It would cripple already struggling businesses, especially the smaller ones."

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney has sponsored a bill to increase the minimum wage, but said he doesn't foresee action on it this year, noting lawmakers earlier this year approved letting workers take paid leave from work as of July 1, 2009.

"We just did paid family leave, and in fairness to the business community we've got to let them breathe a little bit," said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. "I don't anticipate making a push this year, to be honest with you."

He said he would have to talk to legislative leaders and the governor before deciding how to continue.

"I intend to do it in the future," Sweeney said. "I just don't intend to do it this year."