Jersey Journal, June 18, 2008: Report puts spotlight on state’s working poor

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008



TRENTON – One of every five New Jersey families does not earn enough to afford the basic necessities – housing, food and child care – though most households have at least one breadwinner, according to a study released yesterday.

The report by the Poverty Research Institute highlighted the characteristics of these 500,000 households to debunk stereotypes about the poor and encourage lawmakers to fund more effective programs. The study found 85 percent of these families had at least one person working, although not everyone held full-time or year-round employment. Only 6 percent of them received welfare.

“Public policy is horribly out of touch with what real people have to face in terms of their economic reality,” said Melville Miller, president of Legal Services of New Jersey, which founded the Poverty Research Institute.

Serena Rice, the poverty institute’s managing director, said lawmakers could close the income gap by raising the minimum wage of $7.15 to $8.50 and allowing it to rise with future inflation. They could raise the child care subsidies and make them available to more parents.

“Government has to get back in touch with the people it is serving,” Miller said. “Those in dire situations are not being helped, even though the vast majority are working.”

Speaking at a Statehouse news conference, Gwendolyn Wilson, 33, of Toms River, said her family falls into this category, even though she and her husband hold associate’s degrees and work full-time to raise their four sons.

With a recent assistance voucher expiring in November, Wilson said she hopes their $50,000 in shared income will allow them to keep their home. Before they had rental assistance, they were homeless two years ago.

“We do survive, but it’s paycheck to paycheck,” Wilson said.

The study estimates what it costs to cover housing, food, child care and health care for families living in specific counties.

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