Today's Sunbeam

Wage Hike Clears Hurdle

Today's Sunbeam — Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Trenton Bureau

TRENTON — The state Senate's labor committee, against the objections of some business groups, approved legislation on Monday to increase New Jersey's minimum wage by $2 an hour.

Under the proposal, the state's bottom hourly pay rate would rise from its present $5.15 by one dollar each in October 2005 and again in 2006.

President Bill Clinton brought the federal minimum wage to $5.15 in 1997.

"That $5.15 an hour has really harmed low-income workers," said Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-3 of West Deptford Township, who sponsored the bill and serves as the chairman of the labor panel.

"The fact of the matter is, people are trying to live and support their families on an amount that is simply insufficient," Sweeney said. "Children are living in poverty because their parents cannot afford the bare necessities."

Monday's initial passage of the bill came after lobbyists and employers said it would throttle business in the Garden State. The measure now awaits action before the full Senate.

Proponents like New Jersey Citizen Action, which bills itself as the state's largest citizen-watchdog coalition, and the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a non-profit group that conducts research on state issues, maintain that employees earning the minimum wage have lost ground while inflation drives up costs and earnings are stagnant.

But groups such as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses oppose the bill, saying that a minimum wage hike would inflate all salaries.

"Employers have a set amount of dollars for the payroll," said John Rogers, NJBIA vice president for human resource issues. "If state government artificially increases the cost of an employer's payroll ... This will lead to business decisions to reduce employee hours, reduce employee benefits, or perhaps alter plans to remain or expand in New Jersey,"

Others to oppose the increased wage include the New Jersey Retailers Association, the Restaurant Association, and the New Jersey Food Council, arguing that the business community has been hit with dozens of new taxes and fees since former Gov. James E. McGreevey took office in January 2002.

A Rutgers University labor economist with the Center for Women and Work said that raising the state's minimum wage would prove beneficial to low income families.

"The majority of minimum wage workers are adult women," said Eileen Applebaum. "We're not just talking about teenagers.

"We're talking about poor families where an increase in the minimum wage would have a huge effect."

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