A Philadelphia Inquirer poll conducted earlier this month shows 76 percent of New Jersey residents support raising the minimum wage. Unfortunately, just like their state government, they are divided on how to implement it.
In a state where the unemployment rate is still hovering around 10 percent, the poll shows raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 garners cross-aisle support from 87 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Republicans, and 75 percent of unaffiliated voters. A bill passed by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver in May would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 and pin its future rate to inflation. The bill met its fate, though, in the Senate when Gov. Chris Christie announced he would not support any raise indexed to inflation. Oliver has said that she would now consider removing that part of the language:
Raising the wage as soon as possible is “the right thing to do,” Oliver said. “That’s why I made it a top commitment earlier this year and why I continue to want to see the Assembly-approved bill sent to the governor so we can see what he decides and determine the next step.”
The probable veto and eventual delay has caused Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a union Ironworker, to look for another means to this desirable end. He is now endorsing putting the issue in the hands of the voters by proposing a constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. However, this method has also brought forth detractors as many argue it will make things harder in times of economic emergency and that the proposal could not be voted on until November of 2014.
Sixty-six percent said the current minimum wage was too low for working New Jerseyans to support a family; in South Jersey, that percentage swelled to 77. Only 24 percent statewide said they were most concerned that increasing the wage would hurt businesses and slow job growth; in South Jersey, 22 percent expressed concern about businesses.
People were divided over how the wage should be increased and indexed to inflation, with 43 percent supporting legislation and 48 percent supporting a constitutional amendment. That could be due, in part, to confusion over the differences in the mechanism, said Jeffrey Plaut, founding partner at Global Strategy Group, which coauthored the survey.
“It’s the kind of issue people understand and they strongly support it, and that holds up across parties,” he said. But when it comes to the procedure of how to increase the wage, people aren’t sure, he said.
The trend in the country is rising costs with stagnant wages. Marlene Takakjy, a nurse and a Republican from Gloucester County, told PI that the time to help those at the bottom of the wage ladder is now. She said that while she understands the concerns of business leaders, the current rate is simply too low.
“Nowadays, the price of everything’s going up,” she said. “It’s hard for anybody to get by on $7.25″ an hour.