Increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage helps the economy and the state’s lower-income earners

With New Jersey joining several other states in considering raising its minimum wage, it is appropriate to do some myth-busting around the minimum wage, in particular addressing myths around who comprises the minimum-wage workforce, and what the employment impact of increasing the minimum wage would be.

EPI’s analysis of the New Jersey proposal shows that 307,000 workers will be directly helped by raising the New Jersey minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour (because their current wages fall between those points), with another 233,000 workers benefiting indirectly (those whose wages are slightly above the new minimum wage who would see their wages increased modestly). The prevailing misconception is that most minimum-wage workers are middle-class teenagers working part-time for extra spending money. The facts tell a different story. Of those workers benefiting from the proposed minimum wage increase, slightly over half (55 percent) are female, more than four in five (85 percent) are 20 years of age or older, and nearly four in five (79 percent) work more than part-time (29 percent work mid-time, between 20-35 hours a week, and 50 percent work full-time, 35-plus hours a week). More than 3 in 4 workers (76 percent) benefiting from an increase in the minimum wage have a high school diploma or more—and nearly half (46 percent) of workers affected are white non-Hispanic (as seen in Figure 1). Over 282,000 New Jersey children have a parent who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage.

Figure 1: Source: EPI Analysis of 2011 Current Population Survey, ORG data

GDP impact and job creation

The EPI analysis of the impact of the proposed minimum wage increase shows that those workers benefiting (both directly and indirectly) from increased wages, will see an additional $439 million in wages in the first year following the proposed minimum wage increase. For those benefiting, the average increase in their annual income would be $810.

In the first year following the increase in the minimum wage, we estimate that increased spending by workers who see a raise will boost GDP by $278 million. Wage increases resulting from indexing to inflation would result in further GDP boosts in future years. Economists widely recognize the relationship between GDP growth and employment growth. Our model shows that 2,420 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs would be created in the first year as a result of the GDP boost resulting from New Jersey’s proposed minimum wage increase. These jobs would be concentrated within New Jersey, since lower-income workers disproportionately spend their wages locally to meet the immediate needs of their families.

The minimum wage as defense against further erosion of wages 

As seen in Figure 2, New Jersey saw significant erosion of low wages (those at the 20th percentile) between 2009-2011. New Jersey’s $0.60 erosion of wages at the 20th percentile was the 11th greatest wage loss of all states, exceeding the national low-wage erosion by $0.14. With unemployment rates remaining high, employers do not have to provide wage increases to get and keep the workers they need. Since well over half (56 percent) of those receiving additional income as a result of the proposed minimum wage increase fall in the bottom two income quintiles, it is clear that slowing this wage erosion would significantly help lower-income workers.

Figure 2: Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey, ORG data. Note, “Low Wage” = wage at the 20th percentile. Figure shows change in the 20th percentile real wage between 2009 and 2011.

Increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage is the right thing to do for several reasons. It is smart economics, boosting a weak economic recovery that has New Jersey firmly in its grips, and it improves the well-being of working families still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession.