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Controversial Ballot Question Seeks to Boost New Jersey's Minimum Wage

Holding it Down

But opponents counter that small-business owners will have a hard time paying the higher wage and will be forced to lay off workers, especially young ones, to compensate. New Jersey State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Laurie Ehlbeck, has said, "Ninety-three percent of our members said this was a big problem for them.”

A key bone of contention is that the law would constitutionally mandate increases each year in line with the cost of living. Critics also worry that constitutionally mandated increases will strip the market’s ability to adjust in leaner times, a concern that led New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Bracken to write in an editorial, "The New Jersey Chamber and the business community recognize that competitive wages are an important part of attracting and retaining a top-notch workforce. A fair minimum wage is a key component of this, and it should be set by our elected legislators and governor through debate and careful consideration -- and not automatically raised in perpetuity via a constitutional amendment."

A report published by EPI also raises the point that a wage hike would be shouldered by taxpayers who pay the salaries of 13,000 state, county, and municipal workers who earn the minimum wage. The cost of paying for these workers’ salaries and additional payroll taxes would increase by an annual minimum of more than $12 million statewide, according to the report.

Jon Whiten of NJPP says that although the dollar figure is high, it’s dwarfed by what the state government would gain: $174 million in annual impact to the state’s gross domestic product, and a likely decrease to the $117 million federal and state benefits New Jersey fast-food workers currently collect.

Despite these projections, two polls released in late September show overwhelming voter support for the initiative. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that registered New Jersey voters support the question by a 76 percent to 22 percent margin, and a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll showed 65 percent of registered voters in support, with 12 percent opposed and 22 percent undecided. Forty-one percent of voters would even favor a hike to $10.10 an hour.

A report released earlier this year by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which has staged strikes and protests for higher food-industry wages throughout the country, estimates that more than half of Americans living in poverty would no longer suffer from hunger if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour.

Thirty-one percent of the Monmouth/Asbury Park Press poll respondents would oppose such a hike, and 28 percent were undecided.

The favorable numbers led Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, to remark, “The minimum wage amendment is set to pass by a substantial margin. New Jersey voters simply do not accept the business community’s prediction of dire consequences.”

Indeed, the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research cites 10 major studies conducted over the past decade that have concluded that, as summarized by Princeton University economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, “The great preponderance of the evidence from these natural experiments points to little if any negative effect of minimum wage increases on employment.”

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