Asbury Park Press

Raise The Federal Minimum Wage

Asbury Park Press — Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye

New Jerseyans recently mourned the tragic death of Maria Fernandes, a 32- year-old woman who died napping in her car while working three fast-food jobs. Struggling to make ends meet on very low wages, she would often sleep in her car for just a few hours a day in between shifts. Sadly, Fernandes' story is all too real for millions of low-wage workers in our country and underscores why raising the minimum wage is one of the most important issues facing Congress today.

Here in New Jersey, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question last November to raise the wage to $8.25 with annual adjustments for inflation. While this was an important achievement, it is still not enough for low-income families. It is extremely difficult for a New Jersey family to make ends meet on a minimum wage full-time salary of $17,160. At just $330 a week, minimum wage workers are struggling to afford the basic necessities of housing, food, clothing, transportation and health care.

For millions of workers, there remains no pathway out of poverty. Many work multiple jobs with inflexible schedules and long hours, and have limited opportunity for promotion. Low-wage jobs are often physically exhausting and offer little or no benefits such as paid sick leave, vacation days or retirement benefits.

While New Jersey's minimum wage has inched up to $8.25, more must be done at the federal level to help working families support themselves. At $7.25 per hour, our national minimum wage is a poverty wage that is failing American workers. The national minimum wage has not kept up with the increased cost of living, especially in an expensive state like New Jersey. In fact, today's national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is 32 percent lower than the real value of the minimum wage in 1968, when adjusted for inflation. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be more than $10.50 today.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 will help millions of low-income families and approximately 37,000 workers in Monmouth County's Fourth Congressional District. For many struggling families, this additional income of $3,848 per year would be significant. It also would save taxpayer dollars by helping low-wage workers support themselves and be less reliant on government benefits to make ends meet.

Raising the minimum wage will help children and families, as, contrary to popular belief, 90 percent of minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 20. In fact, the average age of a worker who would benefit from a minimum wage increase is 35. A recent study by OxFam America found over a third of these workers (35 percent) are parents, mostly working mothers. This includes almost one in every four working single parents.

Finally, raising the minimum wage will help New Jersey's economy, which desperately needs a boost. Putting more money in the pockets of workers will help stimulate the economy and create opportunities for all New Jerseyans. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Research Policy shows that job growth in states that increased their minimum wages this year is more robust when compared to states that did not increase the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage should not be a partisan issue. It's a human issue that is supported by roughly three quarters of all Americans, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, according to recent polls. President Obama has renewed the call for a minimum wage increase, and prominent Republicans, like former presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney, have also said it's the right thing to do for our workers and our economy.

Congress has the opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation to raise the wage, help New Jersey families, and boost economic recovery. In Monmouth County, Congressmen Chris Smith and Frank Pallone have been strong supporters of a federal minimum wage increase in the past. I hope they will once again stand up for working families and support this important issue in Congress.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye is executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

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