UPDATED: June 10, 2016

Monmouth County remained steady for the last three years in 7th place in the annual New Jersey Kids Count rankings, which measure progress in improving the lives of child in 13 critical areas.

Despite a slight increase in child poverty, Monmouth made gains in median family income, the rate of unemployment, and the percent of households spending too much on rent. The infant mortality rate declined but during that same time, births to teens dropped.

“For the first time in more than five years, we saw a statewide decline in the number of children living in poverty. Fewer children were without health insurance and more kids started their school day with a healthy breakfast,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which publishes the Kids Count reports.

“While this is encouraging, a closer look at the data will show deep pockets of poverty that still persist and disparities in a number of measures of child well-being including child health and safety throughout the state,” Zalkind added.

Morris County, which ranked 1st in the county rankings had only 5 percent of families earning too little to meet their needs and a median income of more than $136,000, while Cumberland County, which placed last, had a child poverty rate of 29 percent and a median income of less than $45,000.

Following are some key trends in Monmouth County.

Family economics. The percent of children living in families earning too little to meet their needs rose from 10 to 11 percent from 2013 to 2014, but the rate still remains below the state average of 16 percent.  

During that same period, median family income climbed from about $106,000 to more than $118,500. Fewer Monmouth County households spent more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent, from 54 percent in 2013 to 51 percent in 2014. In New Jersey, the average percent is 50.

Child health. The percentage of Monmouth women that received early prenatal care remained at 83 percent from 2011 to 2012, the latest year for which data are available. Still, Monmouth advanced to 6th from 8th in the state because of other counties that did not improve on this measure. During the same time, the rate births to teens fell from 4 percent to 3 percent, while the infant mortality rate rose from 2 deaths for every 1,000 births to 3 deaths, dropping from 1st to 6th on this measure.

School breakfast. Monmouth County continued to feed breakfast to 31 percent of eligible students in 2014-15. The statewide participation average is 44 percent.

Child Care Costs. Monmouth County families spent a lower percent of their budget on licensed child care, from 21 percent in 2013 to 19 percent in 2014. This moved the county from 5th to 3rd on this measure of child well-being.

In addition to releasing the county rankings, Advocates for Children of New Jersey also released:

§  New Jersey Kids Count 2016: The State of Our Children, which provides state-level data on key measures of child well-being.

§  New Jersey Kids Count 2016: The State of Our Counties, a pocket guide that provides a 5-year comparison of various measures of child well-being, including poverty, health, education and child protection.

To help counties use the data to address the needs of children, Advocates for Children will host two Kids Count Regional Forums – one in South Jersey and one in North Jersey – bringing together county, city and state leaders with the people in the community who work with children and families. The focus of this year’s Kids Count forums will be developing a children’s platform for the 2017 gubernatorial and legislative elections.

“During the upcoming election campaign season, as candidates talk about their vision and goals for the Garden State, let’s make sure the needs of children and families are part of that discussion,” Zalkind said. “This is a great opportunity to come together and use data to help develop a platform on how to make New Jersey a better place for kids.”

To view the county profiles, the pocket guide and the state Kids Count report and for a schedule of Kids Count forums, go to www.acnj.org.