The most curious part of the grand bargain between Gov. Murphy, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Senate President Nicholas Scutari “to deliver historic property tax relief for New Jersey seniors” is just how long a fuse it has before it fully kicks in.
“A maximum benefit of $6,500 will be indexed to future increases in property tax bills to ensure this continued goal is met,” heralded Gov. Murphy’s press release on the deal. “The relief is expected to be delivered in the form of a direct credit on property tax bills in the first quarter of 2026.”
Coughlin’s comments seemed to suggest New Jersey was a kind of utopia that just needed some fine tuning.
“New Jersey is already a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” said Coughlin. “Now it will be a place where you can retire with dignity and the freedom to choose to stay.
“When coupled with the 18 tax cuts we have already instituted or proposed for lower and middle-income taxpayers, this compromise agreement prioritizes equity and affordability to decisively level the playing field for New Jersey seniors,” Gov. Murphy said in the statement.
Scutari through caution to the wind calling the timed-release property tax relief “a game changer.”
“Reducing the burden of property taxes will give senior citizens the financial security they need to remain in New Jersey, where they built their lives. We want to offer seniors and their families the ability to plan their future here in New Jersey.”
They just seemed to be disconnected from the actual experience of the people that live in the state they govern.
Consider the latest update on the struggles of New Jersey’s poor and low wealth households from the United Way. It has a sense of urgency to it that’s absent from the deliberations under Trenton’s freshly renovated Gold Dome that produced the latest ‘grand bargain’ that stressed seniors won’t feel the full impact of until 2026.
Since a pilot project United Way started in 2009 in Morris County, the non-profit has been tracking a matrix of data points that looks at the actual cost of living for families they designate as ALICE [Asset Limited Income Constrained but Employed] households. The project now covers 22 states and the District of Columbia.
These are households that are not below the federal poverty line, which experts concede is decades out of date, but they do struggle every month to get by, often rotating out an essential so they can keep current on the rent or childcare.
United Way’s household survival budget is composed of a compendium of the bare-minimum cost of household basics: housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care, and a smartphone plan, plus taxes and a small contingency fund, calculated at the county level and included a Senior Survival Budget.
Statewide, 11 percent of New Jersey’s households are living in poverty with 26 percent in that struggling ALICE cohort, meaning that 37 percent of the state is having a hard time making ends meet. In Cumberland that misery cohort is 56 percent; Ocean 46 percent; Essex 45 percent; Atlantic 43 percent and Union 41 percent.
“In 2019, the number of households below the ALICE Threshold in New Jersey fell to the lowest number since 2010 — then the pandemic hit,” according to the United Way’s latest ALICE analysis. “From 2019 to 2021, the total number of households in New Jersey increased by 6 percent and the number of households below the ALICE Threshold increased by 14 percent. The percentage of households below the Threshold grew from 35 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2021.”
The ALICE analysis continued. “The crux of the problem is a mismatch between earnings and the cost of basics. For example, 43 percent of cashiers (one of the most common occupations in New Jersey) were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021. These workers earned a median hourly wage of $13.73 per hour, not even enough to cover the ALICE Household Survival Budget for one worker employed full time ($16.99 per hour), much less for a family with two children, even with two adults working (combined wage of $41.09 per hour).”
And it wasn’t just families with children that were caught in the ALICE bind.
“Rates of financial hardship increased for households of all age groups in New Jersey from 2019 to 2021, particularly among younger and older households,” ALICE researchers found. “The number of senior households (age 65+) increased by 7 percent from 2019 to 2021, while their rate of financial hardship increased from 45 percent to 49 percent. For younger households, the rate of financial hardship increased from 63 percent to 69 percent from 2019 to 2021, with an 11 percent increase in the total number of households headed by someone under age 25.”
According to the United Way, 52 percent of Black and 51 percent of Hispanic households were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021, compared to 32 percent of White households.
Wonder what these data points will look like in 2026? Does Trenton have a plan for ALICE?
According to the latest U.S. Census data, New Jersey’s one of 17 states that’s losing population as we make the bend around this surreal post 3-year pandemic period when we also packed in a violent insurrection in our nation’s Capital.
Last year the national moving company United Van Lines reported that for the fourth year in a row New Jersey topped the country in the percentage of moves that were out of state.
Within our state, eight counties saw their population decline: Passaic [4,409], Union [2,395], Bergen [1,878], Mercer County [1,428], Middlesex [1,294], Cumberland , Cape May  and Hudson .
We are only down around 6,000 people compared to New York’s close to a quarter million decline which is twice as large as California’s 120,000 drop.
Big picture, Americans that can afford to move are continuing to shift away from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West.
Meanwhile, ALICE households are all too often caught in a vice from which there is no escape.
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