Labor Day and the Jersey Comeback

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

As we celebrate Labor Day by grilling burgers and throwing back some beers, consider this: one in four households in New Jersey live one emergency away from falling into poverty.


That’s the finding of the United Way of Northern New Jersey, which released the results of an unprecedented five-year study that tries to shine a giant spotlight on the status of the state’s working poor.

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According to its ALICE study, an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained, and Employed, 1.1 million New Jersey households are unable to afford life’s basic necessities, such as food, housing, transportation and health care. More than half of all jobs in the state pay less than $20 an hour, and in too many cases, far less.

Sadly, too many will read this and think, “I wish I made $20 an hour!” For a household of four, $20 an hour doesn’t come close to providing the stability and security middle class families should be able to enjoy.

The largest threat to New Jersey’s working poor is rampant unemployment, which continues to remain at a 35 year high at 9.8 percent. As the report notes, only large-scale economic and social changes will significantly reduce the number of households suffering from the threat of poverty.

Another new study from the National Employment Law Project, a progressive research and advocacy group, paints a pretty clear picture of how the recession destroyed middle-wage jobs that have been replaced by the type of low-wage jobs that barely keep families above the poverty line. 

“While there’s understandably a lot of focus on getting employment back to pre-recession levels, the quality of jobs is rapidly emerging as a second front in the struggling recovery,” says study author Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project.

In other words, say good-bye to New Jersey’s middle class, and enjoy the growing income inequality that will never be addressed so long as Republicans pout in the corner with their arms cross decrying “class warfare.”

So, for the “Jersey Comeback” to be successful, our leaders need to figure out a way to create and attract more medium- and high-skilled jobs in both the public and private sector.

Unfortunately, this news comes sandwiched between two political conventions that are high on slogans and low on solutions. Don’t count on Chris Christie to be much of a problem-solver. He hasn’t come across a problem that throwing tax cuts at won’t fix, and in his administration, we’ve shed the types of well-paying government jobs that the report suggests are needed desperately in the state.

While the state is gaining jobs in the low-paying service sector, most recently about 5,000 or so at the struggling Revel casino, the state continues to shed well-paying banking and pharmaceutical jobs like those at Roche, which will be closing it’s Nutley complex by the end of 2013, cutting 1,000 jobs.

Chris Christie’s big solution is an across-the-board income tax cut that will put $7,625 back in the pocket of the average millionaire. Christie thinks this will help create jobs, but $7,000 to a millionaire is like $80 to an average family, which consequentially is what we’ll get under Christie’s bold plan.

In fact, Christie’s solutions simply mirror the failed policies of the Republican party at large – cut taxes, defund programs that help the poor, attack unions and acquiesce to the needs of corporate America, all of which create and increase the disparity in income we’re currently experiencing.

New Jerseyans deserve a strong economy, and in one of the richest states in the country, there is no excuse why we can’t come together and work toward real solutions to our state’s problems. But that means logging off of YouTube and getting back working together to the business of fixing our economy.

That’s something I can raise my beer to.


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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