Wednesday, April 9, 2008

INEQUALITY IN THE GARDEN

OK, I solemnly swear to write about some place other than Jersey...after this post. But once again the Garden State serves as a case study of something quintessentially American. This time: economic inequality. Eileen Appelbaum, a Rutgers economist, directed a study of the problems that working families face in one of the richest states in the U.S. The Garden State has a median family income of $75,311, second only to heavily suburban Connecticut. But twenty percent of Jerseyites are members of low-income working families, making less than is necessary to meet the basic costs of living--even in inexpensive parts of the state. Many of them, nearly 70 percent, surprise, surprise, are minorities. The result: low rates of upward mobility and high rates of indebtedness. New Jersey's real estate market is among the nation's most expensive, in part because of the state's proximity to New York City. The fact that New Jersey is sprawling and suburban makes things even worse. As in most Rustbelt states, New Jersey's most rapid job growth is on the fringes of metropolitan areas. The result is that most low-wage workers are heavily dependent on cars and have been socked by rising gas prices. The state's public transportation system is better than most, but it's still far from adequate. Appelbaum and her colleagues offer a sensible set of recommendations: increase the minimum wage, bolster education and job training programs, and use state subsidies (which have done a lot for the suburbs and exurbs) to target investment in low-income areas.