Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Gap between Rich and Poor Grows Wider

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Gap between Rich and Poor Grows Wider

Article excerpt

The gap between the rich and the poor in New Jersey has widened and is now larger than at any time since the Great Depression, a new study has found.

More than three-quarters of income gains between 2000 and the end of 2009 went to the most affluent 20 percent of households. according to the study, which will be released today by the Poverty Research Institute of Legal Services of New Jersey.

More than a quarter of the gains went to the top 1 percent of the populace -- an estimated 75,000 people living in households with incomes of at least $570,000. On the other end, those in the 40 percent of the state's households with incomes under $34,300 -- roughly 3 million people -- actually saw their incomes take a hit over the last decade, the study said.

The divide is even more pronounced when wealth -- property and other holdings that constitute net worth -- becomes the focus. The study noted that the top fifth of households nationally control 85 percent of the wealth.

The wealth and income of those in the middle remained fairly stagnant over the last decade, the study found.

The decade-long trend indicates a "deeply-rooted" divide, said Melville D. Miller Jr., president of Legal Services of New Jersey, based in Edison. "The fact that this has been going on 10 years suggests it's long-term, structural and isn't going to solve itself by itself."

The trend has been documented nationally as well and has become the focus of activists like those in the Occupy Wall Street movement. In New Jersey, the gap has come up in debates over the so- called millionaires tax, which Governor Christie has vetoed three times.

The report pointed out that upward mobility is not as prevalent in societies with stark income inequality.

Because New Jersey has one of the highest income levels and costs of living in the nation, the poor can have an especially hard time making it here, experts said.

"Especially in a very high-cost state like New Jersey," Miller said, "income inequality and the increase of income and wealth in the highest fifth of households can be a major factor in driving the cost of living still higher, putting essentials further beyond the reach of those with lower incomes. …

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