As voters enter polling places Nov. 5th, the question of a livable wage looms over the heads of many people in New Jersey. The ballot will be asking voters if they wish to raise New Jersey's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25.
This could mean that residents who make minimum wage could get a boost up from what Senator Buono has called "starvation wages." Many young people who work for minimum or low wages feel that minimum wage just doesn't cut it when it comes to paying the bills.
"It's great that they're trying to change it but I definitely don't think it's enough. I made $10 at the Huffington Post, sadly, and that wasn't even enough to live on my own in my apartment. My family had to help me live so I don't think that's how it should be," says Sophia Seiverth, a graduate assistant at Ramapo's Roukema Center.
Coming from Germany, where there is no minimum wage, Seiverth applauds the concept of making a mandatory benchmark for paying workers, but says that the system isn't something that can be addressed in one national scoop as the White House proposes.
Plans to raise minimum wage, according to the White House, will not happen all at once. "The President is calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 in stages by the end of 2015 and index it to inflation thereafter, which would directly boost wages for 15 million workers and reduce poverty and inequality."
"I definitely do think there should be minimum wage but I think it should be adjusted by region. I lived in Texas and I was on a minimum wage basis; it was alright, I mean it wasn't great but it was alright because my apartment cost like $450 where as here you can't get anywhere with minimum wage," says Seiverth. "It should be a regional thing. For something like New York City it should be something like $13 or $14, where as it's $7.50 right now."
The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2011 that although workers under age 25 made up only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they also made up almost half of those who are paid federal minimum wage or less, meaning college students may benefit the most from a raise in wages, even if those increases are gradual.
"I work two jobs, one for a little over minimum wage, and one for a little less with the opportunity for tips. The reason I got two jobs was because I wasn't making enough at either by themselves. I started with the party hosting job where I make tips, but my paychecks were never steady enough," says Jess Marino, a 21-year-old with jobs at both Jumping Jungle and Electric Beach.
People in the service industry can make even less than minimum wage in New Jersey. Some servers at major chain restaurants make as little as $3 an hour because they are expected to make up the rest in tips. Many people don't consider this wage to be nearly enough, especially if they work a shift where there isn't a rush of customers.
"One week could be $150 and the next $75. It was even more frustrating when I got a second job for about $2 more than minimum wage and still wasn't making as much as I need. An increase in minimum wage would make a huge difference for me, and make my income more reliable," says Marino. "I work hard and still struggle. It's amazing to me that a twenty-something year old going to school while working two jobs has to fight so hard to get the money we deserve."
However, there are still those that are skeptical and believe an increase in minimum wage will not lead to purely positive outcomes. A 2004 study at the University of Leicester in England found that some businesses respond to an increase in wages by raising prices. For example, a 10 percent increase in wages may mean up to a four percent increase in food costs and an overall 0.4 percent increase in other areas.
The question on the ballot could make a difference in the lives of many low wage workers, but the real question remains of whether or not it would suffice in today's economy.
"I prefer a livable wage, not a minimum wage," says Seiverth.