Dem gubernatorial candidate Buono, labor groups press for minimum wage hike in N.J.

 At a N.J. Statehouse news conference, supporters including Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Barbara Buono, left, urge voter approval of a constitutional amendment to increase New Jersey's minimum wage. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

At a N.J. Statehouse news conference, supporters including Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Barbara Buono, left, urge voter approval of a constitutional amendment to increase New Jersey's minimum wage. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

Some Democratic lawmakers, labor leaders, and community groups are pushing for approval of a New Jersey constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would raise the state’s minimum wage.

Supporters of the measure say the current $7.25 an hour minimum is not enough to make ends meet.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, says the majority of low wage earners are women.

“You will most likely still have to resort to food stamps to be able to buy your groceries,” she said Monday during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton. “And one thing is for sure — at the end of the year, you will still be waking up in that cold sweat, worrying about the bills that are piling up and wondering how long before you and your children are out on the street.”

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage increase in January, saying it would jeopardize the state’s economy recovery.

Small-business owners warn that mandating a higher wage would force them to cut back on the size of their staffs, and could mean thousands of workers would lose their jobs.

Supporters argue boosting the base pay by a dollar and providing annual increases based on inflation would add to the economy because low wage earners will spend all of the extra pay they get.

“That money is going to come right back into the economy,” said James Harris, president of the NAACP of New Jersey. “We’re going to grow, but — more than anything else — we grow hope, and we grow the attitude that somebody cares.”

Trenton resident Regina Thompson-Jenkins, a school district employee, said parents who earn the minimum wage struggle to support their families.

“Their anxiety, concerns, rub off on their children, who then carry the burden of their parents, who are supposed to be focusing on getting an education,” she said. “But no, they’re worried about if they have dinner at night or their lights will be turned off when they get home.”

A minimum wage earner barely makes $15,000 a year, according to Laurel Brennan, secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey AFL-CIO.

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