The New Jersey Record, November 28, 2007: Poor kids in N.J. not faring well

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New Jersey’s poorest children fare worse than poor children in nearly every other state in the nation, according to a damning new report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that low-income children in New Jersey are in poorer health, exercise less, read less, participate in fewer after-school clubs and teams, and live in more dangerous neighborhoods than most poor children in the country. They are also more likely to be overweight, have asthma, live in a single-parent household, have emotional and behavioral difficulties, and have parents who lack secure employment.

“The distance between the haves and the have-nots in New Jersey is very big,” said William O’Hare, the report’s co-author, a demographer and senior fellow at the philanthropic Annie E. Casey Foundation, which advocates for needy children and families. “There are a large number of kids who aren’t doing very well in the state and need the attention of New Jersey’s leaders.”

By the numbers

New Jersey’s poor children are among the worst off nationwide. The top and bottom five states in a ranking of the well-being of low-income children:

1. Utah
2. North Dakota
3. Idaho
4. Wyoming
5. South Dakota
46. Maryland
47. New Jersey
48. New York
49. Rhode Island
50. Massachusetts

The study looked at surveys that measured physical and emotional health, education, family cohesiveness and neighborhood stability. In past rankings by the Casey Foundation, New Jersey has always been among the top 10 of the 50 states — but that was before researchers began parsing out information based on family income.

Thanks to newly available federal data, this is the first year the group has been able to differentiate the findings by socioeconomic level.

What the new figures revealed was startling: The neediest kids tend to live in the richest states, including New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. O’Hare said the findings may reflect the fact that big Northeast cities are home to some of the most concentrated poverty in the country.

Southern states, which are disproportionately poor, ranked far better than many other states in the well-being of their low-income children. Poor children fared best in states such as Utah and North Dakota, perhaps, said O’Hare, because they have a greater sense of community.

The report draws on federal surveys conducted between 2002 and 2004, and defines “low income” as less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, or about $41,000 for a family of four.

To determine well-being, the researchers looked at 29 factors consolidated into six areas: health, social and emotional well-being, cognitive development and educational attainment, family activities, family and neighborhood context, and social and economic characteristics.

The Association for Children of New Jersey said the dismal findings about the state’s most vulnerable children were no surprise.

“New Jersey has consistently ranked very high overall in child well-being, but ACNJ has long maintained that the high national ranking is misleading, because the extreme wealth in the state masks the problems of poor families,” said Maia Davis, the association’s spokeswoman.

New Jersey’s poverty level is among the lowest nationwide: 26 percent of its children under age 18 live at less than 200 percent of the poverty level.

The state Department of Children and Families declined to comment on Tuesday’s findings.

“We really haven’t had a chance to review the report or quite understand exactly what it says,” said department spokesman Andy Williams.


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How N.J. stacks up

Some examples of how New Jersey ranks, by category, against other states in a nationwide survey of low-income children’s well-being:

Health status

• Child has an activity limitation: 22
• Child (ages 10-17) is overweight: 40
• Child has asthma: 37

Social and emotional well-being

• Child (3-5) has emotional or behavioral difficulties: 48
• Child (6-17) experiences depression or anxiety: 11
• Child (6-17) exhibits problem behaviors: 18
• Child (6-17) does not display positive social behavior: 21

Cognitive development and educational attainment

• Child (5-17) has difficulty speaking English: 41
• Teens (16-19) who are high school dropouts: 2
• Child (1-5) at moderate or high risk for developmental delay: 39
• Child (6-17) has a learning disability: 15

Family and neighborhood environment

• Child lives with household members who smoke: 14
• Parent in fair/poor mental health: 8
• Adult-child (6-17) relationship is not close: 21
• Parent feels child is not always safe in neighborhood: 50

Social/economic environment

• Living in a single-parent household: 37
• Parent(s) don’t have secure employment: 32
• Living in a household without a phone: 24
• Living in a household without a vehicle: 49
• Living with a household member who is a high school dropout: 26

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