New Jersey Voters Give State’s Lower-Wage Workers a Big Boost

Minimum hourly pay goes to $8.25, with hikes tied to cost of living, as constitutional amendment wins approval

ballot box
New Jersey voters yesterday approved an increase to the minimum wage and gave their blessing to allowing veterans organizations to pay their operating costs with money raised by hosting games of chance.

By a vote of 61 to 39, voters passed a controversial constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour and mandate annual increases. The ballot measure was expected to pass, though not by the margins of the veterans’ initiative, which passed 81 percent to 19 percent, according to vote totals with about 99 percent of voting districts reporting at 1:00 a.m..

Minimum wage

Backed by labor unions and workers’ rights groups and opposed by pro-business organizations, the wage question raises the hourly minimum wage by a dollar and ties future increases to the Consumer Price Index. Before yesterday, New Jersey’s minimum wage matched the hourly $7.25 mandated by the federal government and set in 2009.

According to New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), 241,000 working New Jerseyans who make between $7.25 and $8.25 per hour will see their paychecks immediately increase, and the wages of 188,000 workers making between $8.25 and $9.25 will increase as pay scales are adjusted upwards. Altogether this affects 11 percent of the state’s workforce.

The New Jersey National Education Association has calculated that minimum-wage workers, who currently earn $15,080 a year for 40 weekly hours of work, will receive an additional $1,000-$2,000 in their paychecks each year.

NJPP president Gordon MacInnes praised the amendment.

“New Jersey’s voters should be thanked tonight for understanding that the state’s low-wage workers need more than $7.25 an hour to survive in this high-cost state,” he said. “Increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage will give nearly half a million working New Jerseyans a crucial leg up while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy.”
But after approximately half of the state’s precincts had reported their results last night, opponents like Americans for Prosperity began calling the outcome “reckless and stupid.”

“The very New Jersey workers this aims to help, teenagers and low-skilled workers in particular, will be the ones hurt the most in the way of lost jobs and opportunity. Small businesses will be hurt by having to cope with yet another onerous mandate they cannot afford. And consumers will be hurt because of a ripple effect in wages that will manifest itself in higher prices at the check-out counter,” wrote state director Daryn Iwicki in a statement.

But according to an April 2012 Bloomberg News report, a “wave of new economic research” is disproving arguments about job loss and youth employment.

“The studies find minimum-wage increases even provide an economic boost, albeit a small one, as strapped workers immediately spend their raises,” it concluded.

Although the minimum wage didn’t appear on any ballots outside of New Jersey, national support for a higher working wage is climbing to unprecedented heights. This past summer, Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Nineteen states have already raised their minimum wage above the federal standard and, a few weeks ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to raise his state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour within three years.

In New Jersey, groups on both sides of the issue spent money to sway the vote. The Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security, a largely union-funded, Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, had spent $686,000 to push the measure as of early October, and the Washington-based Employment Policies Institute (EPI), ran radio and TV spots to express its opposition.

Gov. Chris Christie opposed the measure on the grounds that the constitution shouldn’t mandate annual increases, and he conditionally vetoed a slightly more lofty bill earlier this year. The Democratically-led Legislature circumvented the governor by voting — by a simple majority over two successive sessions, as required by law – to place this version on the ballot.

Pro-increase New Jersey Working Families Alliance Executive Director Bill Holland chided Christie in a statement after the initiative passed: “Tonight New Jersey voters may have given Governor Christie a second term, but by passing Question 2 they repudiated the out of touch economic policies which marked his first. That voters have overwhelmingly approved the very minimum wage hike Christie opposed shows that, whatever they think of him personally, they know life has gotten even harder for the 99 percent on his watch. As he contemplates his second term, Governor Christie would do well to remember that New Jersey voters want policies that build working families up.”

Games of chance

In a ballot initiative resoundingly supported by newspaper editorial boards and forwarded to the public by a unanimous vote by the Legislature, veterans groups now join senior citizens organizations as the only entities in the state that can host games of chance for their own financial gain. With the addition of this constitutional amendment, veterans can host lotteries, bingo and raffles to fill their own coffers instead of raising the money for “educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited purposes,” as the constitution previously stated.

In response to pleas from veterans’ clubs that warned they’d have to close down if they couldn’t generate new streams of income to cover increases in electric, gas, oil and other utilities amid dwindling donations and membership fees, the Legislature unanimously voted to ask the public to extend these courtesies to licensed veterans associations. Christie signed the bill in August.

Unofficial results for the minimum wage question on the ballot, as of 1 a.m.

Source for all data: NJ County Clerks. NJ Spotlight graphics in conjunction with NJ News Commons and Montclair State University School of Communication and Media