From the Star Ledger:
New Jersey hit near rock bottom in wage growth last year as compared to the rest of the country, according to new data released Saturday, raising fresh concerns about the strength of the state’s post-recession recovery, especially when it comes to workers.
The state’s average weekly paycheck grew 1.8 percent from 2016 to 2017, while wages grew 3.9 percent nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The slow growth placed the Garden State at 50th among all states and Washington, D.C., beating only Alaska.
“New Jersey’s been lagging over the post-recession period, but fiftieth is a little unexpected,” said James Hughes, professor of economics and former dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School at Rutgers University.
While the state’s wages remained relatively high — $1,262 on average, making it fifth in the nation — those wages are counterbalanced by its high cost of living. New Jersey has the fifth-highest rents and the fourth-highest home prices in the nation, according to Census data.
By comparison, New York was second in average wages and second in wage growth from 2016 to 2017. California, with the fourth-highest wages, had the fourth-highest wage growth as well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Connecticut was most similar to New Jersey.
“New Jersey and Connecticut are both suburban economies, which are not the strongest nationally right now,” Hughes said. “Since the recession, the most favored places are the 24/7 work-play environments, while the weakest areas are dominated by suburban office buildings. … The places where wages are growing faster are where millennials want to live.”
Yet well-off, suburban Morris County in North Jersey actually matched the national average, with 3.9 percent wage growth. New, often cutting-edge industries have moved to that county in recent years, such as the re-opening of the Bell Labs complex.
Hudson, Monmouth, and Atlantic counties had the biggest increases after Morris. Mercer’s wages, in contrast, actually shrank slightly between 2016 and 2017 — the only county to do so.
Morris County also had the highest wages in the state, with Somerset County trailing close behind. Cape May and Ocean had the lowest wages, although the data included part-time and seasonal workers that may offset the wages of full-time residents.
New Jersey companies employed 4.1 million people in the last quarter of 2017, about half of the state’s population. But that number is likely an underestimation of New Jersey workers, since 14 percent of residents worked out of state in the 2012-2016 Census snapshot.
Passaic was last in employment growth, but every county tracked by the bureau had more workers in 2017 than in 2016. Yet with Baby Boomers retiring and being replaced by lower-wage millennials, the wage situation will probably remain well into the future, Hughes said.
“The administration in Trenton has a tough road ahead,” he said.