More than one-third of New Jersey households struggle to afford basic necessities – and many of them are living in Essex County, a new report by the United Way has found.
The just-released ALICE report, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, has documented the number, location and experiences of New Jersey families who are working, yet "live each day one crisis away from falling into poverty."
According to the report, there are 769,900 ALICE households, defined as having a household income above the Federal Poverty Level ($22,113 for a family; $11,344 for a single adult) but below a basic cost-of-living threshold. For a single adult, that budget is $25,368.
The families studied make more than the official poverty level, but "way less than an individual or family needs to sustain a reasonably healthy standard of living." The cost of basic necessities (housing, child care, food, health care and transportation) for a family of four in Essex County in 2010 was $58,500.
Essex County has the largest number of households below the "ALICE threshold" in the state. That number has increased since 2010, when previous figures were released. The increase has hit children the hardest, according to the report.
The county also has the most unequal distributions of income, the report found, with a good chunk of households falling below and above the $52,394 median income. In Newark, the county's poorest city, the median household income is $35,659, while 12 miles away, in Essex Fells, it's $182,031, according to the American Community Survey.
Fifty-seven percent of about 275,000 households in Essex County were reported as "financially stable." Meanwhile, 17 percent are living in poverty, the highest in the state, and 26 percent are considered ALICE households. The majority of Essex households living below the ALICE threshold reside in Newark. (See page 91 of the ALICE Report for more details on Essex County.)
"I love living in New Jersey. When one drives around the state it is hard not to notice the beautiful tree-lined streets, lovely homes, nice cars, and great shopping," said John B. Franklin, chief executive officer of United Way of Northern New Jersey, in a statement. "These are all signs of the affluence that surrounds us, but if you look a little closer, scratch the surface and get a deeper glance, you will find ALICE."