Number Of Workers Impacted By Minimum Wage Hike Not Precise

As Christie weighs a rise, firms and activists argue about its effect.

The Record ( — Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Record

As Governor Christie waits until Monday's deadline to decide whether or not to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, the picture of the affected workers is sketchy.

Low-income families including many with children would earn more, say some advocates of the $1.25-an-hour pay hike. On the other side, opponents say lifting the minimum wage affects younger workers the most, meaning employers will hire fewer workers.

The question is at the center of a protracted political fight — between Democrats proposing cost-of-living increases to help what they say is a squeezed middle class, and Republicans who say the business community cannot afford to pay more for hourly workers, many of whom they say are young.

The Assembly passed the bill on Dec. 3 and sent it to Christie.

"This increase of more than 17 percent in the minimum wage will affect our company, which has very small margins to begin with," said Anthony Catanoso, who owns the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

Catanoso told lawmakers considering the measure that he expected to hold off hiring 50 workers next summer if wages had to rise.

But activists say focusing on the age of workers risks an implication that entry-level workers do not deserve to earn the same minimum wage.

"Just because someone is young, it should not preclude their need for decent wages," said Yarrow Willman-Cole, a spokesman for New Jersey Citizen Action, which supports the raise.

Think tanks disagree

State figures show 46,000 New Jersey workers earned $7.25 an hour, according to data as of September. Of those hourly workers, 52 percent were between the ages of 16 and 21.

Additionally, 53,000 were reported to be making below minimum wage, a group that could include restaurant and bar workers who make tips to bolster their income.

Michael Saltsman, research director at the conservative think tank Employment Policies Institute, said, "The evidence overwhelmingly shows minimum-wage increases lead to fewer job opportunities for entry-level workers."

But Doug Hall, a director of research at the liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute, wrote in May that the idea that most New Jersey workers affected by a raise were teenagers working for spending money was a "prevailing misconception."

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