Every day, Kim Ticehurst walks a financial tightrope.
A single mother in Montclair, Ticehurst lost her job in the construction industry in January. At 50, she has decades of experience in project management, planning, organization and design, but the scores of resumés she has submitted have been met with no response.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” she said last week. “You definitely confront times when you’re like ‘how do I get through this day?’”
She has pieced together employment, working part-time in childcare while she tries to get her new home-organization business off the ground. For the first time in months, she’s feeling optimistic.
But she knows the littlest of things, from a toothache to a car accident, could turn her life upside-down.
A new study conducted by the United Way of Northern New Jersey shows an alarming number of New Jersey residents are in Ticehurst’s position. Data compiled by the group show that 38 percent of New Jersey households are struggling to meet basic needs. These households are just scraping by, one lost job or medical emergency away from potential fiscal ruin.
The report, called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), paints a stark picture of how widespread financial hardship like Ticehurst’s is in New Jersey.
While 11 percent of state residents fall below the Federal Poverty Line, which stands at an annual income of $22,811 for a family of four, the report found that when adjusted for cost of living the same family needs nearly triple that — $61,200 – just to meet a basic survival budget.
In one of the wealthiest states in the country, 1.2 million households fall below this threshold. And while the state’s economy has shown signs of recovery in the wake of the Great Recession, the number of households struggling by the United Way measure increased by about 24 percent from 2007 to 2012, the most recent data available.
“I had expected things would have improved since the recession, to be honest,” said Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, the author of the report and director of the New Jersey DataBank at Rutgers University. “I think what strikes me most is how vulnerable these people are. You look at Superstorm Sandy, for example. You had tons of people who didn’t even take on any water during the storm, but had their savings wiped out just by not working for two weeks. You have to think about the fact that there are individual emergencies like that every day that don’t get national headlines.”
Among the findings:
• ALICE households exist in every age bracket in New Jersey, but the largest segment of the group is those who are typically in their income earning prime. Households headed by those aged 25-64 represent 75 percent of those beneath the ALICE threshold.
• The average budget needed to provide basic needs, both for the individual and the family household in New Jersey, increased by 19 percent from 2007 to 2012.
• High paying jobs are scarce. Jobs paying less than $40,000 a year now comprise 53 percent of all jobs in New Jersey, and these jobs are projected to be the primary source of labor growth in the coming years.
“I think this sort of verifies for all of us that ALICE isn’t going away,” said John Franklin, CEO of the United Way of Northern New Jersey. “People really begin to understand that we’re not just talking about some number somewhere. We’re talking about a huge portion of our population.”