By Rodney Frelinghuysen
The human face of joblessness -- blue- and white-collar - is everywhere. So government jobs reports, however optimistic, provide a mixed view of our economic recovery. The official national unemployment rate remains frozen at 7.6 percent, with New Jersey's rate much higher at 9.7 percent. While some "experts" see progress, there is nothing to celebrate if you are one of the millions of people unemployed or underemployed!
Many people who have work are holding several part-time jobs. Older workers cannot retire because they still need income. Recent college graduates are taking any job available and there are not many to match their education.
As I travel my Congressional District, talking with people on the street or in their small businesses, I meet people who have been job-hunting for years. Because these individuals are not reflected in the "official" rate, the "real" unemployment rate is probably closer to 15 percent!
The annual Energy and Water Appropriations bill passed by the House this week is part of a plan: a "jobs plan."
Among its other important provisions, the bill contains over $46 million to complete the ongoing Port of New York-New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project -- a largely unknown ten-year effort designed to keep our Port "open for business" to the largest ocean-going cargo ships. Securing this funding has been a key mission for me each year I have served on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which I now chair.
More than 90 percent of global trade, valued at over $1.7 trillion, moves by ship and the Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port on the East Coast of North America and the third-largest in our nation, behind only Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. However, it faces competition from ports up and down the coast, including Baltimore, Norfolk and Savannah.
But our efforts to complete this harbor deepening project have not always encountered smooth sailing.
For many years, it was hard to focus the attention of state and federal leaders on this maritime commercial and national security priority in our backyard!
And a few years back, the Obama Administration tried to cut funding from the project from $92 million to $57 million when the Army Corps of Engineers said it could use $107 million to keep the project moving forward!
When the President finally signs this year's legislation into law, the federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will have invested more than $2 billion in creating deeper channels and berths. There has been a remarkable collaboration among the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, shippers, terminal operators, unions and environmental organizations.
Why is this important?
The Port is the economic engine of northern New Jersey, spurring more than $36 billion in economic activity each year. The Port is responsible for 279,000 jobs, representing $12 billion in annual wages. At the same time, the port generates more than $5 billion in annual tax revenues to state and local governments.
Tens of thousands of people are directly employed along the piers, docks, warehouses, truck staging areas and rail yards at the Port, with thousands more working in New Jersey companies which depend on this vital asset. The Port is critically important because we must remain competitive with other ports along the East Coast, especially as the Panama Canal is widened to accept the largest container ships on the planet! Our future jobs depend on it!
Combined with the state and federal effort to raise the road deck on the Bayonne Bridge, the Harbor Deepening Project will put our region in a good position to benefit for growing global trade. Here at home, these projects affect the cost of goods, retain current jobs, add new ones, and help New Jersey businesses - a true "win-win-win' for our state.