Nearly 646,000 New Jersey children lived in families earning too little to meet their needs in 2012 – a 19 percent increase since 2008, according to new U.S. Census data released today.
That means that an additional 102,000 New Jersey children lived in families earning less than $47,000 a year for a family of four – far too little to provide children with food, clothing, housing, child care and other necessities, especially in high-cost New Jersey. Nearly one-third of all New Jersey children lived in low-income families in 2012.
At the same time, more families spent too much of their income on rent, rising from 48 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2012.
“This is alarming,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Clearly, New Jersey families are still suffering the effects of the prolonged recession and that means children are suffering. We need a coordinated, sustained response to this growing child poverty, which infects nearly every aspect of child well-being.”
Child poverty rose in every county, except Salem and Warren, where the number of children in poverty dropped 14 and 38 percent, respectively. Despite the drop in Salem, the county still had 34 percent of children living in low-income families, while Warren had 15 percent.
Cumberland County experienced the highest increase at 51 percent, followed by Hudson at 50 percent and Essex and Passaic at 46 percent. Hunterdon County had the lowest percentage of low-income children in 2012 at 10 percent.
There is good news. Both the number and percent of uninsured New Jersey children declined 30 percent statewide from 2008 to 2012 when nearly 103,000 New Jersey children lacked health coverage, compared to about 148,000 in 2008.
This success is due to a sustained, coordinated effort to provide health coverage to more children through NJ FamilyCare, the state’s free or low-cost health coverage.
“The same effort needs to be brought to bear on child poverty,” Zalkind said.
All but two counties – Morris and Somerset – saw a decline in uninsured children from 2008 to 2012. These two counties, however, experienced significant increases, rising 18 percent in Morris and 43 percent in Somerset.
In addition, the one-year change from 2011 to 2012 showed nine counties experiencing an increase in uninsured children. These were Bergen, Camden, Cumberland, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean and Sussex.
“It is critical that we look at what is happening in these counties and redouble our efforts to insure more children, especially in light of the opportunities afforded through the Affordable Care Act,” Zalkind said.
She also cited the need to expand preschool to low-income children across the state. Although the state’s 2008 school funding law mandates preschool expansion, only four districts have received state funds to provide this critical early education that can help combat the harmful effects of poverty on learning.
In addition, New Jersey school officials need to recognize that growing poverty means more children are coming to school hungry. Yet, New Jersey’s participation in the federal School Breakfast Program remains low, with just 30 percent of eligible children receiving a morning meal at school in the 2012 school year, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey’s 2nd Annual Food for Thought School Breakfast report, issued last October.
A simple solution to boosting breakfast participation is to serve the meal in the first few minutes of the school day. Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly increases student participation. Despite this, many New Jersey schools continue to serve breakfast before school when children have not yet arrived.
New Jersey’s elected officials should also strongly oppose any cuts to food stamps, as is being proposed by House Republicans in Washington, D.C.
“It is unconscionable to fray the safety net at a time when so many children are in need,” Zalkind said. “Instead, we should be working together to identify ways to help these families meet their needs, secure better employment and get to firmer fiscal ground for the sake of the children, our communities and the state.”