Jefferson Residents Work, Struggle to Afford Basics
New report from United Way calculates number of struggling working families.
The New Hope Food Pantry run out of the Milton United Methodist Church, the Jefferson Food Pantry, the food pantry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church—all are in need of donations. And there's little wonder, based on a report released by the United Way of Northern New Jersey five years in the making that shows more than a third of New Jerseyans, 34 percent, do not make enough money for the basic family necessities. Called ALICE, "Asset Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed," the study looked at families and individuals who earned above the poverty level but are still struggling considerably in one of the richest states in the country.
According to Adele Wildermuth, who heads up the New Hope Food Pantry, the pantry has greatly increased the number of families it helps each month.
"I started working on the food pantry about five years ago, and we used to help about 30 families a month. In the last 18 months, that number has gone up to between 50 and 60 families a month," she said. "And I'd say about 95 percent of those families come from Jefferson Township."
While some families need the food pantry's services because of health issues, Wildermuth said, "at least two-thirds of the families are working, but just can't afford all the necessities each month. By helping them with groceries, we're hoping that they can have money available to pay another bill."
The story Wildermuth is not new or uncommon.
"Some years ago, as the executive director of the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown, I spent my days getting to know many who had hit rock-bottom," said John Franklin, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey. "I gained great sympathy for these individuals who were homeless and destitute. The more I got to know them, the more I learned. The majority were locals, many of
whom had surprising histories of good jobs, good educations and good families. Somehow life had conspired against them."
The ALICE report, Franklin said, was started to gain a better understanding of those who live "one crisis away from falling into poverty." While the families and individuals in the study technically make more than the federal poverty level of $22,113 per family and $11,344 per single adult (a rate not updated since 1974, according to the study), they make a lot less than what is needed to manage a healthy standard of living, he said.
According to the study, 30 percent of the people in New Jersey live in households earning too little to provide basic necessities, and more than half the jobs pay less than $20 an hour, or $41,600 a year, "most of those far less," Franklin said.
In Morris County, 23 percent are below the ALICE threshold, with five percent below the poverty line, according to the study. That is relatively low compared to other counties like Cumberland (47), Cape May (43) and Essex (43).