by Kristen Cloud/staff writer
New Jersey’s economy is struggling. Few would argue that.
The Garden’s State’s unemployment rate hit a 35-year high of 9.9 percent in August, soaring over the national rate of 8.1 percent. Additionally, according to New Jersey Food Council President Linda M. Doherty, job growth is stalled and incomes across the board are down.
“We’ve seen significant erosion of prosperity,” Doherty told The Shelby Report. “New Jersey’s one of the country’s wealthiest states, but the state’s median household income has dropped. We dropped to third among states in terms of our household incomes (in 2011, behind Maryland and Alaska).”
In 2012, New Jersey was second, behind Maryland.
Based on a northjersey.com report, New Jersey’s median household income dropped, after inflation, from about $69,800 in 2010 to $67,500 in 2011. It is down 8 percent from the $73,500 recorded in 2008.
“One in four households in New Jersey live on an income of less than twice the official federal poverty level,” Doherty said. “So, although we’re one of the wealthiest states, there’s a significant erosion of wealth in the state at this point. And families are struggling.”
The federal poverty level is $23,050.
These factors have led to a record number of New Jerseyans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. According to a census report released in mid-September, one in 11 New Jerseyans, or 8.8 percent, received public assistance or food stamps—up from 7.7 percent a year earlier. That percentage is up from 4.9 percent in pre-recessionary 2007.
The more than doubling of SNAP benefits in the last few years is causing an obvious strain on New Jersey retailers. Because of the increase in SNAP recipients, Doherty reveals her organization, in the near future, likely will push for an extended distribution period. Currently, the state’s SNAP funds are distributed over the course of the first five days of the month.
In the meantime, the New Jersey Food Council is tackling other issues on the legislative front—including a proposed plastic bag ban that could impose a consumer fee or tax (see Doherty’s opinion piece).
“We are resistant, obviously,” said Doherty, “because we think it penalizes the consumer in this terrible economy we’re having.
“…when you look at the consumer right now in New Jersey and you look at food stamp usage, and consumer food prices are all rising, it’s not the most appropriate time for these types of programs because you’re hurting the retailer and you’re penalizing our customers.
“I think that will be a battle in the next few months that we will be undertaking,” she added. “That will be a big one.”
The state’s stagnant economy has put pressure on the consumer, altering buying habits for most, according to Doherty.
“Couple that with the competitive marketplace of the competing formats—from the dollar stores to drug store chains to the big boxes; what we’ve seen is … we have a member such as A&P Pathmark coming out of bankruptcy, another in the form of the Acme stores (Supervalu banner) that are up for sale.
“You’re seeing the economic stress, I think, of all these factors on the membership.”
What’s the solution?
Gov. Chris Christie, according to The Republic newspaper, says the recent bad economic news in the state makes the need for a tax cut “even more urgent.”
Christie said Sept. 24 that cutting taxes would make Jersey more competitive with neighboring states.
The Republic reports that the governor and legislative leaders disagree over whether the state can afford to give residents a 10 percent tax break that would be phased in over three years.
Reports in mid-September showed tax collections are $100 million below projections for the first two months of the fiscal year.
Other legislative issues
Doherty notes other legislative issues at hand that could impact the food retail industry include, among others: a manufacturers rebate program; BPA ban; change of liquor laws to allow supermarkets 10 liquor licenses (instead of the current two), to be increased over a 10-year period; revamping of the state food code; and a proactive package of bills to help the retail community curtail organized retail theft.
Rutgers creates New Jersey Supermarket Archives
Supermarket roots run deep in New Jersey, and Rutgers University in New Brunswick is leading the effort to preserve that history. The university is gathering the state’s supermarket memorabilia for the New Jersey Supermarket Archives, a collection of records, photos and other items donated by the area’s pioneering supermarket families, The Star-Ledger reports.
The families that founded early versions of Kings, ShopRite, Pathmark, Foodtown and other chains all have New Jersey ties. They, the newspaper says, built sprawling stores in the New Jersey suburbs that helped pioneer innovations such as pre-cut meat, freezer cases, free parking, air conditioning, check-out scanners, and cheaper and cheaper food.
“The supermarket industry did a great deal in raising the standard of living in this country,” Allen Bildner, whose parents founded Kings in the 1930s, told The Star-Ledger.
In May, the university opened “Founding Families: Supermarkets in New Jersey” in the Alexander Library’s Gallery ’50 in New Brunswick. The exhibition, which ran through Aug. 31, included nine display cases of photos, letters, records, posters, cans and boxes from the early days of supermarkets.
The Star-Ledger reports that Bildner, now 85, came up with the idea of preserving his supermarket’s history when his family sold Kings to the British retailer Marks & Spencer in 1988. He put in the contract that he wanted to keep 14 boxes of the company’s early records and memorabilia.
Bildner, who had worked in his family’s markets since he was 8, hired an archivist to organize the materials.
After shopping around at area universities and business archives, Bildner chose to give his archives to Rutgers in 2008. He persuaded other local supermarket families to do the same, creating the New Jersey Supermarket Archives, The Star-Ledger reports.
In addition to the materials donated by the Bildner family, the newspaper reports that the exhibition includes papers and other items from the estates of Alex Aidekman (co-founder of the corporations that oversaw ShopRite and Pathmark), Milton Perlmutter (one of the founders of Pathmark), the New Jersey Food Council, Food Circus, Wakefern and the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest.
Rutgers officials hope to expand the supermarket archive. Ronald Becker, head of Rutgers’ special collections and university archives, spoke earlier this year about using the archive to preserve the industry’s history, The Star-Ledger reports.