April 16, 2019
by Jennifer Tiedemann
For New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker, his state’s new $15 per hour minimum wage is good, but by no means good enough. Despite the terrible toll that such a high base wage can take on workers and businesses, he doubled down on the failed economic policy in a media blitz last weekend.
On Saturday, Booker kicked off his “Justice for All” campaign tour in Newark, and yesterday morning, he joined CNN’s “New Day” to talk about his campaign and his perspective on economic justice. When asked what a living wage might look like in this country, Booker responded that $15 per hour “would be a start.” That should strike fear into the heart of anyone who knows what the real-world effects of a $15-per-hour minimum wage have been.
It’s no secret that Booker is a big backer of the so-called “Fight for $15,” a union-backed nationwide lobbying effort to raise the minimum wage. When Governor Phil Murphy signed New Jersey’s new minimum wage law earlier this year, Booker tweeted that this marked a “big step forward for economic justice in our state,” and that fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage “continues to ensure every working American has a job that pays a living wage.”
But here’s the thing: A living wage only matters when you have a job. And in the places where the $15-per-hour minimum wage is now law, the effects haven’t been what its proponents promised.
In New Jersey, you only need look across the Hudson River to neighboring New York City for proof of that. In the Big Apple, restaurant jobs are on the decline for the first time in more than 10 years, after the city’s minimum wage went up to $15 per hour at the end of last year. Some employers are cutting worker hours or cutting jobs entirely in order to cushion the blow of the raised base wage.
And the Garden State is already known for having an abysmal economic climate. Just this week, the American Legislative Exchange Council released the latest edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” its annual report on state economic growth and competition. This year, New Jersey ranks 46th in economic outlook (just California, Illinois, Vermont, and New York rank lower) and 49th in economic performance (Connecticut is the only state that performs worse).
New Jersey’s high corporate taxes have already helped to drive several large companies from the state. Honeywell, Mercedes-Benz USA, Hertz, and Sealed Air Corporation (the manufacturer of Bubble Wrap), just to name a few, have moved or announced that they will be moving their corporate headquarters out of state over the past few years. Several have noted New Jersey’s adverse economic landscape as a reason behind their decision to relocate. Now, raising the minimum wage stands to hurt small businesses—those who can’t afford to take on more costs to make their business work. Raises in the state minimum wage will cement New Jersey’s status as one of the least appealing states to do business.
And yet Cory Booker calls a $15-per-hour base wage just a start. It is a start—but it’s really a start toward a rockier economic future that offers fewer opportunities to job-seekers. It’s not really a living wage if it makes it harder to make a living. As Booker embarks on his nationwide campaign tour, that’s a message he could stand to hear.
Jennifer Tiedemann is the Deputy Communications Director at the Goldwater Institute.