Yesterday our friends at Legal Services of New Jersey’s Poverty Research Institute released “The Real Cost of Living in 2008: The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New Jersey.” According to the report one in five New Jerseyans — 1.68 million adults and children — cannot afford to live without some kind of public assistance. In addition, the report provides a detailed analysis of the cost of living in New Jersey for working families based on the true cost of basic household expenses including housing, child care, health care, and food. It also provides a comparison of the Real Cost of Living to other benchmarks of income including the federal poverty level, welfare income, and minimum wage income. Several policy implications flow from the report’s themes and the report includes information on key action the state could take to help New Jersey families meet their basic needs given the high cost of living.
Nowhere in New Jersey can anyone live on the state’s $7.15-an-hour minimum wage. The lowest hourly wage at which a single person can be self-sufficient in New Jersey is $8.58, in Camden County. The wage would provide an annual income of $18,115 with $8,844 a year going for low-quality housing at $737 a month.
An adult with a preschool child needs at least $35,728 to be self-sufficient in deep South Jersey, but at least $47,240 to live in Somerset and Morris counties and at least $39,299 in Warren and Sussex counties. The federal poverty level for a parent and child is $14,000.
In Hunterdon County, the state’s wealthiest county, two adults with a preschool child and a school-age child, need an annual income of $72,200 to be self-sufficient, $52,000 more than the federal poverty level of $21,200. Each parent would have to earn more than $17 an hour.
In Middlesex County, a single parent with a preschool child and a school-age child needs $61,149 a year to be self-sufficient, $43,549 more than the federal poverty level of $17,600. The parent would need an hourly wage of about $29.
In Essex County, two adults with a preschool child and infant need $53,722 to be self-sufficient, $32,522 above the $21,200 federal poverty level. Each parent would have to earn about $13 an hour.