Sunday, September 14, 2014

ALICE In Christie-Land

Governor coy-about-running-for-president-when-it's-clear-that-both-he-and-Hillary Clinton-are-definitely-in-the-race now has another problem.

Its name is ALICE. This is not a shouting person, as the name and all-CAPS might suggest, but an acronym for New Jersey's still-struggling middle class during the governor's tenure.

It stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and along with the other economic fundamentals that are presently working against the governor, this measure be difficult for him to overcome. The data comes from a study conducted by the United Way of Northern New Jersey and the results are depressing. From the article:
Data compiled by the group show that 38 percent of New Jersey households are struggling to meet basic needs. These households are just scraping by, one lost job or medical emergency away from potential fiscal ruin.

While 11 percent of state residents fall below the Federal Poverty Line, which stands at an annual income of $22,811 for a family of four, the report found that when adjusted for cost of living the same family needs nearly triple that -- $61,200 – just to meet a basic survival budget.

In one of the wealthiest states in the country, 1.2 million households fall below this threshold. And while the state’s economy has shown signs of recovery in the wake of the Great Recession, the number of households struggling by the United Way measure increased by about 24 percent from 2007 to 2012, the most recent data available. 
Yes, I understand that this is not just a New Jersey problem, but it is, well...a New Jersey problem. And it has persisted under the Christie administration that only a few months ago was talking about a Jersey Comeback and proposing a tax cut that would have further devastated the economy and the middle and working classes. Christie has also vetoed a law that would have earned revenue from those wealthy residents who are doing very well because of the stock market rally and continues to threaten vetoes whenever such a law reaches his desk.

Take a moment and consider the components of the acronym. These are struggling New Jerseyans who have limited assets because they don't have a lot of paper or real investments, their incomes are constrained because wages have not kept up with either inflation or the value of the jobs they do, yet these residents are employed. They work a full day so they don't count under other government statistics, but they struggle mightily to make their bills and expand their, and their family's, horizons.

It's one thing if  the unemployed struggle. We expect that to happen and there are some programs that can help. But when people are working and struggling, then that's an added tragedy made worse by the governor's refusal to search for solutions that haven't been written by ALEC or vetted by the conservatives whose support he will desperately need in 2016. Public workers are now seeing an erosion of their take-home pay as they are required to contribute more for their pensions and benefits, and the governor wants them to pay more. Property taxes, long the main issue in statewide races, are still going up and will rise more as housing prices recover.

It all adds up to a mathematics that reduces New Jersey's middle class to treadmill animals running just to stay in place. The rest of the country needs to beware.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 


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