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Looking at New Jersey's new minimum wage laws

Workers and employers are rarely aligned when it comes to wages. Minimum wage laws are one of the tools used by workers' rights advocates to protect vulnerable citizens from exploitation. The laws don't always keep up with the reality of day-to-day life, however. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed legislation to help move the minimum wage back to the levels it was intended, when it comes to buying power. At the moment, the minimum wage is $8.85 per hour.

What will the new minimum wage look like?

The changes will come gradually between now and 2024. The first increase will come on July 1, 2019, when the minimum wage rises to $10 an hour. It will then increase one dollar each new year until January 1, 2024 when it will reach $15 an hour. After that, the minimum wage will change each year depending on the consumer price index.

Why not increase the minimum wage to $15 right now?

That is one of the criticisms being leveled at New Jersey officials regarding this law. A dollar does not go nearly as far as it did when the baseline minimum wage was first set. Increases in the minimum wage have not come close to keeping up with inflation. A person earning minimum wage cannot reasonably support herself, even working full-time. 

Many labor advocates were hoping for an aggressive increase that would ease the burdens of the working poor right away. Opposing them, as usual, were business and industry groups who claim to be struggling, despite the enormous and growing wealth gap between owners and the workers who support them. These groups fight against any increase and employ scare tactics and misinformation campaigns to convince the public that paying a fair wage is a threat to the economy, rather than a boon.

Neither side got all it wanted, but workers at least have some hope now that relief is on the way.

Are all workers protected?

No, but more are protected than not. Workers who receive tips continue to be paid on a wage + tips basis, meaning that employers have to make up the difference if the worker's tips plus pay don't add up to the $15 minimum. Seasonal workers and small business employees are on a slightly different, slower schedule to reach the $15 minimum. They will not be guaranteed that wage until 2026. Agricultural workers and trainees will not be guaranteed the $15 wage, though there is a path to that wage for farm workers that will be decided upon in 2024.

The increase in the minimum wage has so far led to lots of complaining by business leaders. That is often followed by a wide range of abuses designed to circumvent the law, or simply violate it in the hopes of escaping detection. Workers will need to be on their guard to make sure employers don't find ways to avoid living up to their new responsibilities under New Jersey law.


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