Asbury Park Press, June 3, 2008: Number of kids in poverty stays constant

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The population of New Jersey’s children who are growing up in poverty remained stable from 2002 to 2006, despite expanding state aid to kids’ programs and general prosperity, according to a report unveiled Monday.

“Shocking” is the way Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey, described parts of her group’s wide-ranging annual Kids Count report, especially that New Jersey has 255,000 poor children who lack health insurance.

“It’s about income. We live in a state of great disparity,” said Zalkind.

A quarter of New Jersey’s 8.7 million people are children under 18 years of age, and 244,000 of them are classified as poor, the report said.

“We are making progress,” Zalkind said, noting the advocacy group each year maps and analyzes the state’s children trapped in poverty.

“Despite everything, there are bright spots,” said state Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez, addressing a gathering of children’s advocates at the Trenton War Memorial.

Velez mentioned state services for children are not being cut across the board, unlike other areas of state spending.

Zalkind agreed. “The Legislature and the governor’s office have really held children harmless in this budget,” she said.

One troubling piece of data is the rise by 6 percent statewide of children born underweight, a condition that signals health problems in later years. Gloucester County led the state, increasing by 48 percent, followed by Warren County, with a 35 percent rise.

The association takes its definition of “poverty” from the federal government a maximum of $13,690 a year for a family of two, $17,170 for a family of three and $20,650 for a family of four.

Another major problem, said Zalkind, is that increasingly people are having to spend more than the suggested maximum of 30 percent of income on monthly rent. “That is a concern,” she said.

Among the findings:

  • • The number of females giving birth between the ages of 10 and 19 dropped or stayed level in every county except Monmouth and Somerset, where the number rose marginally.
  • • While infant deaths have declined most everywhere, they have risen in Camden County by 10 percent, as well as by 16 percent in Mercer County, 21 percent in Ocean County and 4 percent in Burlington County.
  • • Camden, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties landed in the upper levels of proven cases of child abuse and neglect 977 cases in 2005 in Camden, 897 cases in that year in Middlesex, 827 cases in Ocean and 622 cases in Monmouth. Essex topped the list with more than 1,500, ahead of No. 2 Camden.
  • • Children in foster care or other out-of-home placement fell statewide by 24 percent from 2003 to 2007.
  • • “Suburban areas in the central and western parts of the state tend to have higher incomes and perform better on many measures of child well-being,” a pocket guide to the report said.
  • • Hunterdon County youths stand out as test-takers; its 11th-graders score 10 to 19 points higher on state language arts, math and science tests than the state average and 22 to 37 points higher than the lowest, Cumberland County.
  • • More kids are passing assessment tests, and the gap between scores in wealthy versus working-class school houses has narrowed.
  • • While the New Jersey statewide level of children in poverty has stayed flat, so has the federal level, which at 18 percent is above New Jersey’s of 12 percent.
  • • Median family income for whites in New Jersey is $85,199. For African-Americans, it is $52,949, and $46,918 for Hispanics.
  • • Of all New Jersey people ages 18 to 24, more than one in 10 or 13 percent have no degree beyond high school, and are neither attending school nor working.
  • • Hudson County has the most children living poor 26 percent of the youngsters there. Passaic County has 23 percent, Cumberland 21 percent and Essex 19 percent.

Hunterdon County has only 3 percent of its children in poverty the least in the state and next-door Morris County has 4 percent.

Across the state, New Jersey has 12 percent of its children in poverty.

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