Inflation-based minimum wage boost will benefit 300K NJ workers

“What’s the magic about $15? And I would answer back and say what’s the magic about $8.44, or soon to be the whopping increase to $8.60,” said Governor-elect Phil Murphy, just days after being elected at an event flanked by labor leaders and legislative leadership.

That “whopping” increase begins Jan. 1, and it starts the clock for Murphy to make good on campaign promises pledging to boost it further. If the 16 cents an hour increase doesn’t sound like a lot, New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Brandon McKoy says that’s because it isn’t.

“The average increase is about $469 a year. So again, it’s an increase, but if you’re telling me that’s going to help people afford the things they already can’t afford, I disagree,” said McKoy.

According to a report out Wednesday from NJPP, the Jan. 1 wage increase will boost the pay of 7.5 percent of New Jersey’s workforce, or 300,000 low-paid workers in the state.

The change, from $8.44 to $8.60 an hour, is an automatic increase tied to inflation. So what does a salary on that wage look like? If you work full-time, and never take a sick day or miss a day of work, you’re bringing home just under $18,000 a year under the new wage. While it’s an improvement, it’s just a hair higher than the yearly salary under the old minimum wage.

“Even in the most affordable or least expensive part of the state, which is the Ocean City-Metro area. Today, right now, you need a $15.15 wage to get by,” continued McKoy.

Paying bills is often a struggle for Alison Arne, a preschool teacher in Atlantic County. She makes just above the minimum wage. Her take home pay? $23,000 a year.

“If someone is working full-time, they should at the bare minimum be able to pay bills,” said Arne.”I’m a single mom, so right now there’s a lot that she misses out on because I earn so little. Just because someone doesn’t have a college degree, that doesn’t mean they should live in poverty or even if they didn’t go to trade school that they should live in poverty.”

Arne and many of her co-workers do, even with college degrees and multiple teaching certificates.

“We have no primary health care plan. I guess the bonus is because we all make so little, we qualify for Medicaid, which is constantly under attack, too,” she said.

“This is affecting people, not just fast food workers, but also people who do difficult jobs, like people who work in health care and education,” said McKoy.

But opponents say increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, kill jobs and cut worker hours. Murphy has pledged to move the needle on the so-called fight for 15 within his first 100 days. But, that’s an ambitious goal, even with a Democratic-controlled legislature and all leaders on board.