Unemployment in New Jersey is at 4.1 percent, the lowest rate in 17 years, but a new study finds a majority of New Jersey jobs don’t pay enough to support a middle class lifestyle.

The Thirdway study classifies 30 percent of jobs in the Garden State as “hardship jobs,” which means they do not allow a single adult to pay all of their bills and expenses.

The study also finds 28 percent of Jersey jobs are “living wage” jobs, meaning they pay enough to make ends meet, but just barely, and there’s not enough money to save for retirement or take a modest vacation.

One out of four jobs in the Garden State are listed as “middle class.” These jobs pay enough for someone to save a little bit, take a modest vacation and dine out occasionally.

About 17 percent of jobs in New Jersey are considered “professional.” These positions pay enough to take a more elaborate vacation and live in a more expensive home.

Rutgers University economist James Hughes said it’s not surprising so many Garden State residents are stuck in lower paying jobs, struggling just to survive. He noted the key factor here is “the real great transformation into really a post-industrial information technology dependent economy."

He said this kind of economic environment produces great rewards for those with in-demand talents. “But we have tremendous disparities: Those that don’t have the skill and educational levels to participate in that new economy are really stuck in service positions and the like.”

He said back in the 1980s, “a lot of the jobs were routine information processing and record keeping, and advances in technology have essentially eliminated those jobs.”

He also noted many positions, if not eliminated, have been dispersed to other countries where standards of living and pay are much lower.

He noted even though many of our salary levels here tend to be higher than in other states, “New Jersey is one of the most expensive places in the United States to live. We rank No. 1 in housing costs and we have high tolls on our roads and high property taxes.”

Hughes said while we have very low unemployment numbers in New Jersey and across the country, that’s misleading.

“There are growing disparities as a result of how the economy is evolving and so it produces a lot of winners but it also is creating a lot of losers.”

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