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Serena Rice Testifies in Favor of Raising the Minimum Wage

16 May 2016 12:44 PM | Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (Administrator)

APN Executive Director Serena Rice testifies in support of S-15, the bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, before the Senate Labor Committee today


Highlights from Rice's testimony include:

  • We cannot begin to end poverty without addressing one of its most virulent and persistent causes: wages that trap people in poverty, even when they are working full time. Unfortunately, that is what our current minimum wage does for the many struggling parents supporting families on just $8.38/hour.
  • People of color are significantly overrepresented in the low-wage workforce, making up more than 50% of workers who would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though they make up 41% of the total workforce. Seen another way, these populations are disproportionately harmed when we hold wages down.
  • The reality is that poverty-level wages hurt us all because they depress market demand and create tremendous need for social services. By gradually, but consistently, raising the wage to $15 by 2021, New Jersey will be making an investment in the economic health of our whole state.
  • As we sit here today, far too many New Jerseyans are working hard and not making enough money to pay for the most basic necessities. They are the cashier who rang up your coffee this morning, the preschool teacher who is caring for my child, the janitor who keeps the restroom clean for us all. They are people who are an essential part of our community.
The full text of her remarks can be found below.

Senate Labor Committee, May 16, 2016

Testimony of

Serena Rice, Executive Director

Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey


Good afternoon Chairman Madden, Vice-chair Vitale, and members of the committee. My name is Serena Rice and I am the Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals committed to the prevention, reduction and the eventual end of poverty in New Jersey.  Thank you for the opportunity today to express APN’s support of Senate Bill S-15 which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

One of the core principles of APN is that anti-poverty programs and services -- while vitally important for people struggling with the daily deprivations of poverty -- are not the end game of anti-poverty work. We also need poverty prevention in the form of economic empowerment.

There are few things that are as fundamental to economic empowerment as decent wages. We cannot begin to end poverty without addressing one of its most virulent and persistent causes: wages that trap people in poverty, even when they are working full time. Unfortunately, that is what our current minimum wage does for the many struggling parents supporting families on just $8.38/hour.

According to a report by New Jersey Policy Perspective, 1 in 4 workers in the state would receive a pay increase if S-15 is passed, and over a quarter of them are parents. Ninety-one percent are adults and more than 40% are over the age of 40. The majority of affected workers are working full time (61% are working 35 hours a week or more), and only 12% are working less than 20 hours/week. In short, we are not talking about extra spending money for High School students; we are talking about wages to pay the rent and electric bill, and to put gas in the car to get back to work tomorrow.

By raising wages we will be raising the incomes of poor and very poor households. We will also be making a powerful investment in economic equity for people of color. People of color are significantly overrepresented in the low-wage workforce, making up more than 50% of workers who would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though they make up 41% of the total workforce. Seen another way, these populations are disproportionately harmed when we hold wages down.

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These facts show the error of arguments that try to convince us that minimum wage workers don’t really need a living wage. The cost of living, economic justice, and basic human dignity all argue for higher wages.

What is more, it is not just the workers who need a higher minimum wage. The reality is that poverty-level wages hurt us all because they depress market demand and create tremendous need for social services. By gradually, but consistently, raising the wage to $15 by 2021, New Jersey will be making an investment in the economic health of our whole state. We will be investing in our people, and by doing so we will be investing in the very customers that drive economic growth and strong jobs. In short, we will be investing in economic empowerment for New Jersey.

As we sit here today, far too many New Jerseyans are working hard and not making enough money to pay for the most basic necessities. They are the cashier who rang up your coffee this morning, the preschool teacher who is caring for my child, the janitor who keeps the restroom clean for us all. They are people who are an essential part of our community.

S-15 is an important first step in addressing one of the most pervasive causes of poverty - poverty-level wages. I ask you to join me in supporting this effort to create a stronger, more empowered New Jersey where every resident has the opportunity for economic independence.

Thank you for your time and your thoughtful consideration of this important legislation.


Submitted by:

Serena Rice, Executive Director, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey





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