Struggling families may see financial relief in future


One-fifth of New Jersey families do not earn enough to minimally support themselves, a 16 percent increase since 2000, according to a University report "Climbing the Ladder: How to Invest in New Jersey's Working Families."

With the number of working families climbing, report analysts are suggesting the government focus on adult education in the state as well as raising the minimum wage. Both initiatives may help the struggling poor struggle less, analysts said.

The Rutgers Center for Women and Work and the New Jersey Policy Perspective analyzed the data and found that 193,905 households, consisting of 750,000 adults and children, earned less than double the poverty level, which was $39,942 in 2005.

Brandon Roberts, the manager of the Working Poor Families Project, said his organization thinks training adults for better jobs will help the poor in the state support themselves.

The Working Poor Families Project provided the data for the report, which centered on New Jersey, but gathered statistics nationwide.

"[The state needs] a key set of policies: adult education and training, and policies that allow adult workers to go back to school to get more skills so they can get higher paying jobs and meet the skill needs of business," Roberts said. "We see this as a win-win for everybody."

High schools in the state should treat job training and apprenticeships as a top priority for people who don't want to go to college or finish high school, said Joshua Ontell, the vice president of the Roosevelt Institution, a student-run think tank.

The statistics speak for themselves, he said. Significantly more people without high school degrees are unemployed as well as those who don't go on to higher education.

"The main point is job creation and making sure the people of New Jersey are prepared for good jobs," Ontell said.

He said New Jersey should create more outreach programs, since a lot of people who might take advantage of adult education might not know about the opportunities that exist.

"It really depends on their community," Ontell said.

A Spanish-speaking community was one example, he said. Reaching out to the adults of such a community might include Spanish-speaking publications.

Ontell said the government would need to reach all the different niches of New Jersey society.

Raising the minimum wage could help the working poor as well, said Jon Shure, the director of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive organization that helped analyze the data for the report.

The well being of the working poor affects not just them as individuals, but the whole state, Shure said.

"They're serving us food and taking care of sick people," he said. "Their work helps our well-being but not their own."

He said if the working poor are not paid well, they might have less incentive to do their jobs well because they would be distracted by economic stress.

The state is making motions toward increasing minimum wage again, as the State Commission recommended raising it to $8.25 in December.

"It's important for us to understand that their problems are our problems," Shure said.

New Jersey has a high median income, but the cost of living in this state was much higher than a lot of other places in the United States, which is why the working poor struggle to make ends meet, he said.

"New Jersey is a very prosperous state. It's true for a lot of people, but not all people," Shure said.


Michelle Walbaum

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