TRENTON – The Senate Labor Committee today approved a measure sponsored by Senator Stephen M. Sweeney that would increase the State’s minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 over a two-year period.
“New Jersey’s reputation as one of the nation’s most progressive states is not done justice by the fact that we have the lowest minimum wage in the Northeast,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem, who also Chairs the Senate Labor panel. “New Jersey’s high cost of living warrants an increase in the minimum wage to allow the working poor to adequately provide for themselves and their families.”
Senator Sweeney’s measure, S-2065, would increase New Jersey’s minimum wage twice over two years – first to $6.15 in 2005 and again to $7.15 in 2006 . The bill would also create the “New Jersey Minimum Wage Advisory Commission” to annually evaluate the State’s minimum wage and issue reports detailing recommendations for necessary increases.
The first report would be due to the Legislature no later than December of 2007. The Commission would consist of the State Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development and four gubernatorial appointments.
The State’s first minimum wage law was signed in 1966 at the hourly rate of $1.25, which, according to Legal Services of New Jersey was sufficient to support a family of three with a single, full-time worker. Since its introduction, the minimum wage has equaled the federal minimum for 17 years. A ten-cent increase in 1999 brought the minimum wage to its current level.
“The most recent increase also brought with it Governor Whitman’s seal of approval on legislation to ensure that the minimum wage never exceeds the national level,” said Senator Sweeney. “The legislation was, in essence, an ok to allow millions of New Jerseyans to continue living in poverty.”
Senator Sweeney noted that with current inflation levels a minimum wage of $5.15 is more equivalent to earning $4.51, according to a report by the Poverty Research Institute of Legal Services of New Jersey. He also noted that the idea of teenagers being the only ones earning $5.15 is incorrect. Studies have shown that most workers earning minimum wage are over the age of 20.
“The fact of the matter is, people are trying to live and support their families on an amount that is simply insufficient. Children are living in poverty because their parents cannot afford the bare necessities. Its time to help ease the struggle of the State’s working poor and allow them the chance for economic advancement,” said Senator Sweeney
The measure now awaits consideration by the full Senate.