If a minimum wage of $15 per hour ever becomes a reality in the Garden State, teen workers want to make sure they're not left behind.

Concerned with proposed "carve outs" for specific populations — such as youth workers — teen advocates from Make the Road New Jersey hit the boards and sand in Asbury Park on Wednesday, attempting to garner support for minimum-wage legislation that includes all workers.

"Some families actually rely on their children as the breadwinners," said Fiona Joseph, 17, of Elizabeth. "Some people that I know — they work to pay the bills."

Joseph, a movie theater employee, said it would make no sense for two people employed in the same position to earn drastically different amounts, just because one person is 17 years old and the other is 18.

With many teenagers putting out money to better prepare for college, or saving dough to pay for their education, the current $8.60-per-hour rate isn't cutting it, she said.

Make the Road New Jersey, which advocates for working-class communities, has gathered more than 2,300 signatures from New Jersey residents over a 10-week period, according to project coordinator Nedia Morsy.

"Minimum wage was created to protect vulnerable classes and vulnerable populations, and when we're carving out any group of people, we're doing the opposite," Morsy said.

In 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have gradually raised the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour. Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on higher wages and has since reaffirmed that commitment.

"Governor Murphy is committed to working with the Legislature to give New Jersey workers a $15 minimum wage, a crucial step in making the state stronger and fairer for all residents, regardless of age or economic status," press secretary Dan Bryan said in an emailed statement to New Jersey 101.5. "The Governor is confident that he and the Legislature can enact legislation that raises the wage in a responsible manner."

At an event in July, Murphy told a crowd that raising the minimum wage is near the top of his "unfinished business list." Senate President Steve Sweeney is in support of a hike to $15 per hour, but has indicated the change would have to include exemptions.

According to Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, a $15 minimum wage that includes teenagers could the set the stage for businesses feeling forced to hike wages at all positions. The association is opposed to a $15 minimum wage overall, but understands it likely will be signed into law under the current administration.

"When you artificially inflate that low-skill level position nearly 80 percent, you're resetting the wages for every position, which will have a significant impact on the cost of doing business in the state of New Jersey," Siekerka said.

NJBIA is advocating for a "predictable pathway to increase the minimum wage," she said — one that includes several exemptions, such as youth workers who would otherwise find it difficult to land their first job while competing with job seekers who have more experience.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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