I’ve always said the best social program is a job. But that job should pay a living wage. No one who works full time should live in poverty. Yet that’s the reality for far too many of our neighbors.

Working families deserve a raise, and that’s why I’ve put forth a plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Any single parent with one child earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is living in poverty. And countless more working families earn less than a living wage. That means they’re fully employed and still in need of federal assistance to meet basic needs of survival, food and housing.

I recently met with a group of hardworking people from South Jersey struggling to make ends meet on these low wages.

Katherine from Brooklawn earns $9.70 an hour as an assistant retail manager. Her husband is unemployed and recovering from cancer, so that just isn’t enough to help them cover the costs of raising their child.

Even at $12.64 an hour, Gynene, a certified nursing assistant from Sicklerville, is barely getting by. All the single mother wants is to care for her 6-year-old girl after a full day caring for the loved ones of others. Instead, she worries how she’ll pay her bills this month, and every month, let alone ever setting aside savings for the future.

It’s obvious our current system doesn’t work for working families and that has to change.

Back in the 1960s, CEOs of large corporations were making 20 times the average worker. Now it’s more than 300 times what today’s workers are making. That trend needs to stop, and it starts by raising wages.

I firmly believe that a higher minimum wage will have a dramatically positive impact. When people earn more, they spend more. That’s good for our economy. It would make families less reliant on federal assistance and put them on the path to financial independence. Most importantly, it would break the cycle of debt and poverty that is keeping hardworking people from achieving their full potential.

My plan gradually phases in the increase, raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 this year, and a dollar a year thereafter to $15. Following that, it would be tied to inflation, like we do now in New Jersey.

I also understand not every business is a large corporation and we need to give Main Street time to adjust. That’s why a critical part of my plan is small-business assistance, which would help the more than 60,000 small businesses across our state make the transition. They would be offered a payroll tax cut if they voluntarily raise wages at least a dollar above the federal minimum. Let’s reward those small businesses that drive our economy and help their employees earn a livable wage.

We all agree that a full day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. Sadly, for millions of Americans that’s simply not the case. We can and must do better. Raising the wage will lift countless working families out of poverty and tying it to a tax cut for forward-thinking small businesses makes it a win-win for our economy.

America deserves a raise. Katherine and Gynene and working families just like theirs have certainly earned it.

Donald Norcross represents New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.