By Colleen O'Dea of NJ Spotlight
The typical New Jersey household’s income dropped again last year, the fifth consecutive decline, according to new data released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Not surprisingly, as incomes fell, the ranks of the poor rose.
“The latest federal statistics show there are more people in our state struggling in poverty than during any period in half a century,” says Melville D. Miller Jr., president of Legal Services of New Jersey. “That can cripple the development of our children and our state’s economic and social future.”
The latest Census estimates put the median household income in the state at $67,458. When adjusted for inflation, that was 3.4 percent less than in 2010 and 8.1 percent less than in 2008, the first full year of the recent recession. It’s also less than the actual, unadjusted, median incomes for the prior three years and only slightly above 2007’s actual median income of $67,035 -- $72,666 in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars.
New Jerseyans are not the only Americans with declining incomes. According to the Census estimates, Vermont was the only state in which the median household income rose between 2010 and 2011.
As income dropped, the percentage of people living in poverty in the state rose, from 8.8 percent in 2008 to 10.3 percent in 2010 and 10.4 percent last year. In 2011, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $22,350.
“Essentially, since the onset of the recession, nearly 170,000 more New Jerseyans, including many from the middle class, have fallen into the ranks of the impoverished, and that’s just at 100 percent” of the federal poverty level, said Shivi Prasad, senior researcher and policy analyst for Legal Services’ Poverty Research Institute. “They have seen their circumstances deteriorate and unfortunately, with unemployment remaining so high in New Jersey, the situation does not appear likely to improve anytime soon.”
Prasad said the federal poverty level severely understates what poverty really amounts to, especially in a high cost of living state like New Jersey. It is more meaningful to gauge the percent of people living at 200 percent or less of the poverty level. By that measure, more than 2 million New Jerseyans were in poverty, including more than 600,000 children. “That’s one of every four of our residents struggling in one of the richest states in the nation,” Miller said. “This situation is simply appalling.”
According to Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the number of children living in extreme poverty -- $11,175 annual income for a family of four – grew by 28 percent to 141,000 children.
That prompted Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ’s executive director, to call on federal candidates this election year to address the issue and how they plan to help families and children who continue to struggle through the sluggish economy.
“While candidates often talk broadly about creating a better future for the next generation, they almost never discuss specifics,” Zalkind said. “This is an urgent problem. We need national leaders who will outline how they plan to address the growing child poverty that threatens the very future of our next generation.”
Advocates for Children recently launched the What About the Kids? campaign, which seeks to get candidates to address such issues as child care, early education and supports for working families in debates, forums and other venues. “Voters should demand that candidates address children’s issues,” Zalkind said.
At least some of the economic woes are due to the large numbers of people out of work. The Census estimates also show the unemployment rate rose in New Jersey, but newer data released at the same time by the state Department of Labor paint an even worse picture: 9.9 percent of the labor force was unemployed last month, up from 9.8 percent in July 2012 and 9.4 percent in August 2011. That prompted calls for action from politicians and public policy experts alike.
“The increase in New Jersey’s unemployment rate to 9.9 percent comes the day after New Jersey lost out to New York City for the location of 234 high-value pharmaceutical research jobs,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “These are the kind of jobs we need to capture if we are to put the state on the path to prosperity.”
MacInnes said Roche didn’t pick Manhattan because of its low tax rates, “yet, both the governor and legislative leadership are obsessed with tax cuts as the only response to high unemployment.” What they should do instead is try to emulate Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “who obsesses with creating the infrastructure and culture to attract research, engineering, and software jobs."
All the estimates were part of the Census’ findings from the 2011 American Community Survey, which provides a wide range of statistics about people, housing and the economy. Specific economic estimates for each county can be found by clicking on a county. The entire set of Census data is available on American Factfinder.