EDITORIAL: Growth hides debt, poverty, wage issues

Number of NJ residents unable to pay for utilities increases

Politicians, economists and political pundits have touted the fall of joblessness and the growth of economic stability as the nation continues to recover from the Great Recession. While the used statistics and anecdotes depict an economy resuscitated and growing, the deep wounds of debt and economic immobility stretch across the country. 

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged over the last decade while the incomes of the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans have increased by 10 percent. America does not have job problem right now. It has a good job problem that exacerbates debt, inequality and socioeconomic immobility.

In New Jersey, the economic expansion seen across the nation has been felt by some residents. Median household income in the state rose in 2017 and New Jersey’s median household income is among the highest in the country. 

And yet, overall wages, after accounting for inflation, failed to grow, one in 10 state residents live below the poverty line and 1 in 7 children are impoverished. Although the median income increased and is among the top in the nation, the gains were concentrated among the few as wage growth was negligible and the chasm of economic inequality persists. At the same time, the number of people struggling to keep their lights on has not fallen, but rather it has increased. Across the state, residents have been tied to cement blocks of debt and watched as the inescapable water of overdue payments and costs of living rose above their heads. New Jerseyans are suffocating in darkness.

According to data from the state Board of Public Utilities, shut-off numbers in New Jersey have been rising and climbed last year to 141,687. In September, residential customers who were more than 30 days past their bill due date owed PSE&G $102 million. Approximately 360,000 residential customers received shut-off notices as they were urged to pay their bill. 

At the same time, because of the demonization of social welfare and government assistance, fewer households have been utilizing the low-income programs that could avert shutoffs. Even though both the state and many New Jersey utilities offer financial assistance programs that focus their effort on working with those who cannot pay their bills, the shut-off numbers continue to rise.

For legislative change, students can voice their support for the bills proposed to address the problem to their elected representatives. To ensure elderly and disabled residents have continued access to vital utilities like water and sewer service, a New Jersey Assembly panel approved a bill Dec. 3 that would expand the state's Lifeline Credit and Tenants' Lifeline Assistance Programs, covering more residents and utilities. State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-N.J.), is the sponsor of an initiative that would prohibit electric public utilities from cutting their services or failing to restore the services "if a customer will suffer serious impairment to their health or safety."

There must be a rejection of the degradation and disparagement of the indebted and poor coupled with continued support for those unable to complete bill payments. We need an expansion of programs that cut the tethered weight preventing mobility and keeping the poor's heads below water.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority  of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not  necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its  staff. 

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