Minimum wage campaign kicks off

An NJ.com story on today’s official kick-off of Raise the Wage’s official campaign to pass a state referendum that would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 and index it for inflation shows the shortcomings of this kind of approach. While Raise the Wage — a coalition of unions and other organizations — intends to focus on grassroots organizing, its kick-off press conference featured the biggest names in New Jersey Democratic politics, which meant that the coverage was going to focus on, well, politics.

Here is the lede:

Two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, the party’s nominee for governor and top union leaders this morning kicked off a campaign to raise state’s minimum wage.

What follows, interspersed with some quotations about the need for a higher wage, is essentially more of the same — which unfortunately implies that the campaign is less about the wage-hike than about Democratic politics.

The issues, as some of the speakers apparently made clear, is about ensuring that low-wage workers earn enough to survive and the need to decouple the minimum wage from politics by tying it to the Consumer Price Index. The wage, which was last increased to $7.15 in 2005, though a federal increase pushed it to $7.25 in 2009. The wage, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, is now worth $6.17 an hour in constant 2005 dollars. Gordon MacInnes told me back in January that, had the 2005 wage kept pace with inflation “it would be $8.52 an hour.”

That, Booker said at today’s press conference (NJ.com) is the crux of the issue.

“You look all around this region and poor working people are having to pay more for rent, more for food, more for gas, more for transportation, more for tuition,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the frontrunner for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, told about 65 people gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church. “All of these costs going up but minimum wage has stayed the same.”

Critics of the hike say will cost jobs, that it is too much of a wage hike too soon and that the escalator clause is bad policy. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a Democratic bill that would have increased the wage to $8.50 with cost-of-living adjustment for just that reason.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver disputed those claims:

“You will hear all kinds of arguments about why New Jersey can’t elevate the minimum wage. It’s a job killer. Businesses will leave the state. A host of different arguments,” Oliver said. “But we continue in New Jersey to provide tax breaks for millionaires, corporate tax incentives for businesses. But we will turn our backs on the lowest wage earners in the state?”

Polling shows the wage hike to be popular, though it has not received a lot of attention. It has been — and likely will continue to be — overshadowed by the governor’s race and now the U.S. Senate rate. The Raise the Wage campaign should bring it more exposure and, hopefully, the debate over the wage increase will get its own full hearing by the voters between now and November.

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