Raising the minimum wage so soon after Hurricane Sandy could create another round of casualties, according to state Sen. Robert Singer: businesses along the Jersey Shore.
During a Senate hearing Nov. 29, Singer (R-Ocean) argued against a measure to increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.50 from $7.25. Senate Democrats passed the bill 23-16; Singer voted against it. The minimum wage last got a bump in 2005.
Singer’s statement focused on the financial hit Shore businesses would face by raising their labor force costs on top of trying to rebuild in time for summer 2013.
"More than 50 percent of those people getting minimum wage in this state are high school students," Singer said. "Many of them work the Shore area."
While a good number of working high school students are likely being paid minimum wage, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that more than half the population earning $7.25 an hour in New Jersey are in high school.
Let’s review the data.
New Jersey is one of 23 states with minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal
In its most recent annual report, the state’s Minimum Wage Advisory Commission noted that 16,000 people ages 16-21 were paid minimum wage on average for a year-long period ending September 2011, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That amounts to 40.2 percent of minimum-wage earners in the state -- the largest group of workers being paid $7.25 an hour, according to the report.
Brian T. Murray, a state Labor Department spokesman, said more recent data for the period of October 2011 through September 2012, shows that 24,400 people (52.4 percent of the state’s minimum-wage earners) were in that age group, according to the Current Population Survey and the BLS.
The more recent data, however, has not yet been released officially, Murray said.
So, Singer can’t accurately claim that more than half of New Jersey’s minimum-wage earners are high school students. The closest age range to high school in the New Jersey data is 16-21, meaning people not in high school are lumped in with students.
Singling out high schoolers isn’t critical to the overall discussion about raising New Jersey’s minimum wage, according to Singer.
"I don’t think the statement is really crucial in the entire discussion," Singer told us, adding that there’s no way to count high school students who may be getting paid ‘off the books,’ or in cash, without tax deductions. "If it’s 40 or 50 percent, 10 percent doesn’t change my comments or the gist of my comments."
There’s also a difference in the weight minimum wage carries in a family when a teenager is getting it versus an adult.
"The idea to the extent that teenagers are second workers or third workers in a household where there’s other income, then raising the minimum wage is not necessarily for those households an anti-poverty program," said Joseph Seneca, an economics professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. "The real effect of helping the working poor is to raise the income of those people who are heads of households."
During a speech on the state Senate floor about raising New Jersey’s minimum wage, Singer said, "More than 50 percent of those people getting minimum wage in this state are high school students. Many of them work the Shore area."
Data shows that high school-age students are part of the largest percentage of New Jerseyans earning minimum wage, but the data is for an age range of 16 to 21. That means nonstudents are included.
Singer said his figure doesn’t include students who may be paid ‘off the books,’ but there’s no way to quantify that group.
As a result, there’s no clear proof that more than half those in New Jersey earning minimum wage are high schoolers even though it’s likely some high school students are included. We rate Singer’s statement Mostly False.
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Update: The minimum wage bill that Singer voted against also included a provision providing automatic annual increases in the minimum wage, starting in September 2013, according to Senate Republicans spokesman Jeremy Rosen. Further, Singer voted in the same hearing against tabling an amendment to increase New Jersey's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, over three years, Rosen noted.