ALICE handed you your coffee as you passed through the drive-through this morning. ALICE was also driving the ambulance that passed you, lights on, sirens sounding as you pulled over and wondered who was in the back being medically treated.
ALICE also guided the ambulance into the parking stall at the hospital emergency room, and asked the patient where it hurt and took their temperature and called for a doctor.
ALICE was also pulled off the road as the ambulance passed, driving that older blue Chevy, and the minivan and the delivery truck.
ALICE sits across from your desk at work where you play Angry Birds or Candy Crush on company time. ALICE is your early-twenties son selling electronic appliances while waiting for that job that matches his college degree to open.
How do we know this?
Because ALICE is everywhere.
Many of you reading this are ALICE.
ALICE – the acronym for workers drawn from the United Way of Northern New Jersey’s ongoing study, which means Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — plainly is us. Read the report here: http://www.unitedwaynnj.org
ALICE is not a new creation, a manipulation of statistics to expose a new situation.
ALICE has been with us forever. Our parents were ALICE, working hard at all the jobs in the 1950s and 1960s that created the economies that followed, but earning most likely half or less than what you make today.
A $25,000 salary in the Fifties and Sixties was considered decent.
Today, it is barely above poverty level for a family of four.
What changed in part was the cost of everything.
Instead of paying $30,000 for a house, today they start at $400,000.
Those changes and others account for the jump in ALICE households in New Jersey from 769,900 in 2013 to 887,644 this year, according to the new UW report.
Even in wealthy Morris County, where the median income is over $90,000, 25 percent of the population is economically constrained.
What also changed is our attitude toward the poor, the working poor and anyone perceived as somehow less that ourselves.
This pervasive cynicism.
It is evident in on-line chatter that trails stories about the unemployed and the disadvantaged that ignore how important and skilled many of the lower-paying jobs ALICE holds actually are.
Since when is being a secretary or a short-order cook or a librarian a bad thing? What changed that we look down our noses at the public works crews that repairs our roads, or the clerk at the town office who assists a new business owner file paperwork, or the sales clerk or the security guard.
Seems the problem is they are not rocket scientists.
Well, guess what?
Neither are you. Like ALICE you could be one catastrophe away from living in your car.
Worse yet is the absence of any substantive discussion by our politicians about helping ALICE by addressing many of the institutional hurdles they face.
We have reached the point that running for office does not require any mention of ALICE or issues that affect workers.
Can’t change the minimum wage. Businesses will fail.
Except in states that have raised the minimum wage, the jobless rate fell because workers had more money to spend. And forget the recent survey that showed a larger number of employers favored raising the minimum wage because it cut down on turnover, generated more productive employees and generally put more money into the local economy. Even Wal-Mart figured out they need to pay their workers more because they don’t earn enough to even shop at Wal-Mart.
Instead we get proposals to freeze wages, or worse create a starter minimum wage as if that is any incentive for a worker to take a job, cut benefits, pensions, and hours.
The thing that all these proposals have in common?
They blame workers for the state of the economy.
Where is the responsibility of the business community to grow their own segment of the economy? Why is it that businesses are allowed to continue to make the same
lame excuses year after year – it’s the workers, the government, the bureaucracy, Spain’s exchange rate, the French, a change in the weather – rather than buckling down and doing their job, which is to manage their business smartly in changing conditions. Because conditions are always changing.
And because there are businesses who manage these changes well. I’ve reported on many of them in the past year and — know what? — there’s a surprising lack of whining, just doing.
So for a politician to get my vote this year, here’s what I want to hear from you.
These are the types of efforts that would help ALICE and drown out the politics of cynicism that pervades our conversation.
New Jersey companies, hospitals, medical services and others and schools of all stripes, from high schools to universities, are working together to identify the training needed to fill new jobs and new types of jobs. I want to hear candidates talk about how they will support this effort with funds for training and programs that boost such efforts.
With the on-going retirements of the Baby Boom generation, there is a severe lack of skilled trade workers – plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and others. I want to hear a politician say they will support the training efforts of local high schools and county colleges to fill these jobs, and not talk about the need for more standardized tests. I want to hear about better opportunities for child care and pre-school.
Guess what, the suburbs are so over.
So say Joseph Seneca and James Hughes from Rutgers in their latest study that showed the population is shifting back to urban centers and older settled suburbs like Morristown and Hoboken.
I want to see politicians get out front of this and devise plans that help municipalities convert all those empty offices into communities with shops and housing and jobs – places corporations have already declared they are looking at for expansion. (And not a plan like we have in New Jersey that gives tax breaks for a company to move from one Jersey town to another.) This would go a long way to filling the need for affordable housing and give ALICE that chance to live closer to a job.
At the same time I want to see politicians demand funding and programs that increase the connective uses of public transportation.
Businesses have complained for years that for them to move to New Jersey they need more affordable housing and better public transportation.
And if all those suburbanites and their adult kids are moving back to the urban areas, creative public transportation plans are needed to make it easier to get around town, because if the streets are filled with more cars, we’re right back where we started.
The new urban areas don’t need to look like New York City in the Fifties. They can be bustling and attractive town centers.
We need our politicians to come back from their parallel universe to accept this reality: That nothing they talk about matters unless they begin to speak about someone other than themselves.
You have stale, backward-looking ideas that add nothing to the world that is unfolding.
Sit down with ALICE and get the real dope. ALICE will make you think about what is actually important and how to create it.