Gov. Christie should sign legislation passed Monday that would increase New Jersey's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour, with automatic cost-of-living raises.
Low-wage workers, unfortunately, are a growing segment of the workforce. An August study by the National Employment Law Project showed that 60 percent of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, but such positions accounted for only 22 percent of the jobs that have been filled during the recovery.
In contrast, only 21 percent of the jobs lost during the recession were in the lowest-paid occupations, but those types of jobs accounted for 58 percent of the positions being filled in the recovery. That means more New Jerseyans are working for less pay.
A full-time, minimum-wage job at $7.25 an hour yields $15,080 a year. That is well below the poverty line of $44,700 a year for a family of four in New Jersey, which has one of the highest costs of living in the nation.
Some opponents say the minimum wage should not be raised with the state trying to recover from Super Storm Sandy. But that may make it the best time to give a boost in pay to poor families, especially those struggling to cope with the consequences of flooding from the storm.
Another criticism of a minimum-wage increase is that most of its beneficiaries would be teenagers who don't need additional income to support a family. That's a nice fantasy that comforts people with the mistaken belief that minimum-wage workers still live with their parents and don't have to worry about paying for housing or health insurance. But that simply is not the case.
Teenagers account for less than 20 percent of all minimum-wage workers. The rest are adults, many of them single parents trying to raise children alone. Their jobs lack decent benefits. Their work schedules fluctuate so much they can't take classes that could lead to better jobs.
If Christie vetoes the wage increase, Democrats, who control both the Senate and Assembly, promise to post it as a constitutional amendment on the 2013 ballot, which will also include the governor's bid for reelection. But that's not the best route to help New Jersey's working poor.
First of all, hard-wiring minimum-wage increases into the state constitution would make it too difficult to make adjustments when the economy demands swift action. Also, the proposed amendment would only raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, and that couldn't happen before 2014. The legislation before the governor would increase hourly pay to $8.50, beginning in March.