Why New Jersey must stop raising the minimum wage at its current rate (Opinion)
Back in July 2019, New Jersey's minimum wage was raised to $10 per hour for most employees, followed by a dollar more at the start of each year afterward. A necessary step to officially bring the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024.
So far, New Jersey hasn't missed a beat on its pathway to achieving that goal. The minimum wage went up again to $13 per hour on January 1, 2022, and is currently set to go up again on January 1, 2023, to $14 per hour.
At the time this was passed, there was wide support to bring the minimum wage up not just in New Jersey, but nationwide. To Governor Murphy's credit, he did something to finally address the absurdly low minimum wage that was in place across the Garden State.
With the high cost of living here, a minimum wage hike was way overdue. And to be honest, it's still overdue on the federal level.
Back when these accelerated pay hikes began, some of us were skeptical of the high rate of $15 per hour, at least for minors. Like many of you, I thought $15 per hour for a minimum wage was simply too high too soon. Not saying I don't support it that high, but rather, the increase is too steep for such a short period of time.
My thought at the time was that $12 per hour seemed like a fair boost from where we were, with annual adjustments due to inflation from that point on. But that was then, and as we all know, so much has changed.
Fast forward to today, and we're still not quite out of the pandemic yet. And yes, I hate saying that word too. Like many of you, I'm sick and tired of the word pandemic and having to deal with it.
But on a brighter note, we're finally on the back end of it, and that's great news for all of us. However, the damage has been done, and it's probably going to take some time for us to get back to what we'd like to call normal.
When it comes to minimum wage, I was very surprised to see the $1 accelerated hike still take place at the start of 2021. It was then that we went from $11 per hour to $12 per hour.
I remember thinking, how could that be? Why on earth are we still raising the minimum wage a whole dollar after so many people lost their jobs and businesses shuttered due to the pandemic?
And unlike now, we didn't know a lot about what was going on, which is why we were in lockdown. And I wondered, why are we raising this rate while in lockdown?
At the same time, however, we finally got the state to $12 per hour. But with everything New Jersey and country just went through, I thought it would've been wise to leave it alone at that point and only adjust for the cost of living at most. Not just because it's what I felt it should be, but mainly because of what a burden was already on so many of our businesses financially if we kept it at the $1 per hour yealy adjustment.
But alas, a global pandemic didn't pause it, and now for 2022, we're at $13 per hour. At least now we're looking at the pandemic in the rearview mirror (hopefully), and our great New Jersey businesses can start to rebuild the right way.
But unfortunately, we're now dealing with high inflation and insanely high gas prices. Not to mention the war happening on the other side of the world. Right now is not the time for us to be raising the minimum wage at this accelerated rate.
Not only is it an added burden on all of our small businesses, but it's also not helping with higher prices as these businesses must pass that burden on to their customers to stay afloat.
And I can promise you that most businesses aren't raising rates for their senior staff. It's not that most of these businesses don't want to, they simply can't afford it. And thus, the base pay is creeping closer and closer to those who worked so long to get where they are now.
With all of that said, I think the time has come for us to really reassess the mandatory minimum wage hikes the way it's set now. As stated above, I'm not against seeing the rates go up, especially for adults just trying to get by. Minimum wage hikes haven't been done properly for a long time and I'm glad New Jersey finally addressed it here.
But in light of everything we've gone through since March 2020, we need to be realistic. We should pause this accelerated automatic wage hike to $15 per hour and give our businesses time to properly recover first. Especially our small New Jersey businesses, who suffered the most financially.
Once we feel like we're in a place where business is good, people are employed, and prices are reasonable, then we can hit the resume button. Until then, we should pause the $1 per hour hike at the start of every year until the time is right for us to get to $15 at an accelerated rate.