NJ.com, Sept. 18, 2014
New Jersey was one of three states that saw both a jump in the number of people living in poverty and the poverty rate in 2013, according to new Census numbers.
The data released on Thursday shows that while the poverty rates in most states has plateaued, New Jersey’s poverty rate actually went up from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 11.4 percent in 2013.
The other two states that posted an increase were New Mexico and Washington.
The announcement comes two days after the Census released a separate report stating that the nationwide poverty rate declined slightly for the first time since 2006.
“It was a surprise to us, and a bit disturbing”, said Melville D. Miller president of Legal Services of New Jersey, who had predicted that the new Census numbers for New Jersey would either remain stagnant or decrease slightly because of decreasing unemployment rates.
Miller said the increase could be due to the fact that even previously unemployed people who have found work may still may remain at the poverty level.
“I resist making any sweeping generalizations,” he added. But, when combined with some of the other economic trends that he said he has observed such as declining wages, the new data is “worrisome.”
The actual number of people living in poverty increased from 934,943 in 2012 to 998,549 in 2013.
“It may seem that the national economy is improving. Wall Street and major corporations are certainly doing better,” said Castro. “But, that’s just not trickling down to many New Jerseyans.”
Even as New Jersey’s poverty rate continue to increase, it still remains still well below the national average of 15.8 percent.
The Census also included county numbers which show Cumberland had the highest poverty rate in New Jersey at 20.6%, followed by Hudson (19.7%) and Salem counties (18.4%)
Mirroring the statewide trend, most counties also saw an increase in the number of people living in poverty and the poverty rate.
However, Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, Assistant Research Professor at Rutgers, said that even though Census county data tends to be pretty accurate with a reasonable margin of error, the numbers still need to be put into context, especially in counties with small populations such as Salem and Warren.
“I wouldn’t take them as absolute numbers,” Hoopes Halpin said. “But that it’s an indicator that there’s something worth of investigating.”
In addition, she added, the higher poverty rates in Atlantic and Cape May counties may be due to residents still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Hoopes Halpin also questioned the rates in light of how the government measures poverty across the country. The federal government uses the same benchmarks, developed more than 50 years ago, to measure poverty in every state. The cost of living is not only higher in New Jersey, but it also varies widely among New Jersey’s counties.
The actual number of people living in poverty in New Jersey, therefore, is likely higher than the Census reflects, said Hoopes Halpin. In a study conducted for Rutgers and United Way, Hoopes Halpin said she took into account the varied cost
of living expenses and showed that 38 percent of New Jersey households are struggling to meet basic needs.
“It’s so frustrating to have this archaic number used in the Census,” she said. “I worry that it hides a lot of hardship.”
2013 Poverty Rates in New Jersey
Atlantic County- 18%
Bergen County- 8.2%
Burlington County- 5.7%
Camden County- 15%
Cape May County- 9.4%
Cumberland County- 20.6%
Essex County- 17.8%
Gloucester County- 9.8%
Hudson County- 19.7%
Hunterdon County- 3.3%
Mercer County- 11.8%
Middlesex County- 9.5%
Monmouth County- 7.7%
Morris County- 4.3%
Ocean County- 10.2%
Salem County- 18.4%
Somerset County- 5.3%
Sussex County- 5.8%
Union County- 11.5%
Warren County- 9.3%