January 17, 2017 | Number of The Day
NJ families who can’t afford basic necessities

The number of New Jersey households that do not earn enough money to afford the basic necessities in 2014 was virtually unchanged from two years earlier, despite some improvement in the state’s economy, according to the latest ALICE report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey. Those 1.2 million families include 11 percent with incomes below the federal poverty level — $23,850 — and another 26 percent not technically in poverty but still unable to afford the annual Household Survival Budget of $64,176 calculated by UWNNJ for a family of four with two young children. UWNNJ calls the latter group ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The basic budget, which includes housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, taxes, and miscellaneous expenses, increased by 23 percent from 2007 to 2014, while inflation rose 14 percent. To afford that, a householder would need to earn at least $32.10 an hour. According to the ALICE report, just over half of New Jersey jobs paid less than $20 an hour in 2014.

The then-United Way of Morris County issued its first ALICE report in 2009 as a way to try to quantify and draw attention to the plight of those too wealthy to fall below the federal poverty level and receive some governmental assistance but not wealthy enough to live comfortably in a high-cost state like New Jersey.

“ALICE is a very important part of our society,” said John Franklin, CEO of the United Way of Northern New Jersey. “About a third of our society works, pays taxes but [is] not able to afford where they live. ALICE is disenfranchised from participating in many societal opportunities.”

UWNNJ has so far done ALICE reports for 13 states and of those, New Jersey households fare comparatively better than average, with typically 40 percent of those in the 13 states falling below the ALICE threshold in their individual states. Iowa, Washington, Maryland, and Indiana all had smaller percentages of households either living in poverty or ALICE. New York has the highest proportion – 44 percent unable to meet basic living expenses in 2014.

While New Jersey had an average 37 percent below the ALICE threshold, conditions varied widely across the counties, ranging from a low of 24 percent in Hunterdon to a high of 59 percent in Cumberland County either living in poverty or ALICE.