TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A quarter-million low-wage workers will get raises Wednesday, when a change in the New Jersey constitution kicks in and increases the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour.
Six in 10 voters approved the increase in November, granting the state's first minimum wage hike since 2009. The constitutional amendment also guarantees future minimum wage hikes to the lowest paid workers as the cost of living rises.
A dozen other states are raising their minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 on Jan. 1. In all, 21 states will have higher a higher minimum wage than the federal requirement next year, with 11 more and Washington, D.C., expected to consider increases.
President Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage, but Congress has not agreed.
New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank based in Trenton, estimates that 254,000 workers will see a wage boost in their paychecks and that 189,000 more who earn between $8.25 and $9.25 per hour will indirectly benefit as their wages are adjusted upward. Most of the beneficiaries are working adults, not minors, the group says.
Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature decided to put the minimum wage question to voters after they could not reach agreement with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on a wage hike.
Democrats sent Christie a bill raising the wage to $8.50 per hour with annual cost of living adjustments built in. Christie sent it back, offering a $1 increase phased in over three years with no automatic adjustments.
Democrats nationally have begun realizing what New Jersey's majority party already figured out — that increasing the minimum wage is popular among voters and that it could be used to turn out voters in off-year elections.
In New Jersey, it's the only issue in recent memory that Democrats were able to drive despite Christie's objections.
The state's business community spent more than $1 million lobbying against the measure, which they claim will lead to layoffs and reductions in hours for low-wage workers and will dissuade businesses from opening or relocating to New Jersey.
Proponents, who spent slightly less, contend that workers cannot survive on $7.25 per hour and that all employees deserve a living wage.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, insisted on the automatic annual adjustments because he did not want the minimum wage to continue to be up to the whims of the Legislature and the politics of the day.