Lawmakers suggest lots of exceptions to $15 minimum wage
New Jersey’s labor commissioner advocated for a $15 an hour minimum wage at a budget hearing Tuesday, but lawmakers ticked through a series of concerns about the idea – and a long list of exceptions they’d like to see if a bill is passed.
Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said an increase in the minimum wage would be a plus for the economy. He said two groups he’s heard worries from recently are landscapers and summer camps but discounted them.
“Here are two industries that can’t be moved out of state. They can’t be outsourced,” Asaro-Angelo said. “So all things being equal, if everyone’s on a level playing field, which we hope to enforce, that those increases will be – you’re not going to be losing to another competitor who’s paying less.”
Gov. Phil Murphy wants to raise the minimum wage, in steps, to $15 an hour.
State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-Burlington, said the minimum wage should stay below $15 for high-school students like her daughter, making less than $10 an hour at a clothing store where adults wouldn’t hold jobs.
“Would I like her to have $15 an hour? Heck yeah. And would she like that? Yeah,” Addiego said. “But she’s doing just fine at $9 and something cents an hour, and she’s paying for the gas in her car.”
Asaro-Angelo said three-fourths of minimum wage workers aren’t teens.
But state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said the exceptions will have to go farther than that.
“Seasonal workers. High school workers. Folks who work for our Parks and Recreations in our towns, and we hire a bunch of counselors. Lifeguards,” Sarlo said.
Asaro-Angelo wasn’t asked at the hearing about a bill endorsed last week by the Senate Labor Committee that would roughly double New Jersey’s paid family leave benefits – 12 weeks, up from the current six, and up to nearly $1,200 a week.
In an interview after the hearing, Asaro-Angelo endorsed the concept. He said he hasn’t yet seen or analyzed the legislation so couldn’t say if the program’s expansion would lead to an increase in the payroll tax paid by workers.
“We certainly support any move to increase benefits for folks to use family leave,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Our department looks forward to increasing our outreach on the program, increasing the usage of the program. So increasing the benefits will only bring more people into the program.”
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has a $970 million proposed budget, but only $168 million of that comes from the state budget. More than $476 million is federal funds, and $325 million comes from dedicated, off-budget sources.
In addition to job training programs, the department administers unemployment and disability benefits.
New Jersey’s unemployment fund currently has a balance of close to $1.9 billion. That’s a big recovery from a decade ago, when it needed to borrow billions to pay claims during the last recession, but still far from the robust levels in other states.
“I would say it is stable. Flush would be another adjective I might not use,” said Asaro-Angelo, who said the fund’s solvency still ranks in the lowest quartile nationally.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Ron Marino said the latest annual report on state unemployment funds from the U.S. Department of Labor, issued in March, found New Jersey at 56 percent of what would be needed to withstand another big recession.
“You can talk to as many economists that you would want, a lot of them saying the fact that it’s not if it would come, it’s when it’s going to be coming,” Marino said.