At 8.5%, New Jersey's unemployment rate is higher than the national unemployment now at an all time low of 7.3%, leading some to question why so many people still need food assistance programs. But the national unemployment rate, stuck stubbornly high at over 7 percent, only tells part of the story.
It neglects the fact that low-wage workers are competing with higher-educated and better-trained workers for low-wage jobs. Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses but account for only 22 percent of recovery growth. By contrast, low-wage jobs represented 21 percent of recession losses, but made up 58 percent of recovery growth.
I t neglects the reality that many of those who have been able to find employment are working for less income than they were before the recession. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell six percent from 2009 to 2012. There are still more than three job seekers for every one position available. With so many skilled workers competing for low-skill jobs, wages are depressed.
Finally, it neglects the fact that those who are lucky enough to find a job may not be getting the hours they need. In addition to the 11.3 million individuals unemployed, an additional 7.9 million people who want to work are working part time because their hours have been cut back or they could not find full-time work.
These facts remind us why low-income households are always the last to recover after a recession; why u nemployment among college graduates is 3.5 percent, but remains at 11.3 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.
The dark truth behind the unemployment numbers is that millions of families are still struggling to make ends meet. Millions of Americans are struggling just to put food on the table.
That is why it is so disturbing that Congress is considering deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the farm bill. The House bill would cut nearly $40 billion in food assistance, causing millions of SNAP households to see their benefits cut or lose benefits entirely -- right after all SNAP participants just received a benefit cut in November. Equally baffling, the House proposal would increase participation barriers and time limits for unemployed adults -- including families with children -- at a time when jobs remain scarce.
In the aftermath of the recession, food banks continue to see elevated client demand, both from families who are hurting but make a little too much in income to qualify for SNAP, as well as families for whom SNAP benefits are inadequate to last them through the month. Increased need resulting from the recession has been coupled with declining food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal commodity program that is a significant source of food distributed by emergency food providers.
We all agree that a decent job is the best solution to poverty and hunger, but right jobs remain hard to come by. We need more jobs and job-training opportunities to put struggling families on a path toward self-sufficiency. In the meantime, Congress has an opportunity to address the needs of families challenged to put food on the table and the food banks and pantries that serve them by passing a farm bill that protects SNAP and increases funding for TEFAP.