The median hourly wage for the most widespread occupation in New Jersey in 2014 was $10.70 per hour, according to the United Way of Northern New Jersey’s. Retail salespeople numbered 138,020 and typically made just $2.45 more than the minimum wage at the time.
The UWNNJ report on 1.2 million New Jersey households in poverty or unable to afford the basic necessities cites the prevalence of low-wage jobs as a major problem that has put more than a quarter of households in the category of ALICE: asset limited, income constrained, employed.
On average, in order to afford a basic living budget that includes housing, childcare, food and other expenses, a family of four with young children would need to earn at least $32.10 per hour. But 52 percent of jobs in New Jersey were paying less than $20 an hour in 2014.
The report found some positive signs: the number of jobs paying lower wages — less than $30 an hour — declined between 2007 and 2014, while the number paying more than $30 increased, with jobs paying more than $60 an hour doubling.
Still, 13 of the 15 most prevalent occupations in 2014 paid a median hourly wage of less than $20. Three paid less than $10 an hour: cashiers, number 2 with 95,910 employed; combined food prep, number 10 with 57,890 employed; and wait staff, number 11 with 57,040 employed. Of the top 15, only two paid more than $20 per hour: registered nurses, ranked fourth, numbering 76,790 and paying $37.52 an hour, and business operations specialists, ranked 15th, numbering 46,930 and paying $33.83 an hour.
And the future jobs outlook does not bode well for helping to move households out of poverty or the category of ALICE. The report cites job projections from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development that show 82 percent of new jobs created between 2014 and 2024 will pay less than $20 an hour.
“More than any other factor, jobs define ALICE,” the report states. “The current employment outlook, especially the increase in low-wage jobs, suggests that the number of ALICE households will increase, as will demand for government and nonprofit assistance to fill the gap to financial stability. Technology innovation has the potential to change the jobs landscape. But the timing and the extent depend on a host of economic factors, and the implications for ALICE families are not yet clear.”