Too Many New Jerseyans Struggling to Make Ends Meet in This Down Economy

Too Many New Jerseyans Struggling to Make Ends Meet in This Down Economy
Poverty Rate Dips in 2014 But Remains Far Higher Than in 2007 and 2000

Slide11Poverty in New Jersey decreased slightly in 2014, but remains far higher than it was before the Great Recession and 15 years ago, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau released today. While the drop from 2013 to 2014 is not statistically significant, the long-term jumps certainly are. With more than 1 in 10 New Jerseyans below the federal poverty level and 1 in 4 living in true poverty, it is clear that New Jersey still has a long way to go to achieve a full recovery for all working New Jerseyans.

New Jersey’s poverty rate in 2014 was 11.1 percent, down just a bit from 11.4 percent in 2013. That equals 972,903 people living below the federal poverty level, which is just $24,000 for a family of four. But while 2014’s rate is less than 2013’s, it’s still the second highest New Jersey has seen in recent decades. By contrast, in 2007 the rate was 8.6 percent and in 2000 it was 7.9 percent.

What’s more telling than the official poverty rate – particularly in high-cost New Jersey – is how many people are living in “true poverty,” or up to 200 percent of the federal level. These are folks who are unable to save for emergencies or college, who cannot afford even weekend trips and can be undone by the need for major car repairs. Like the official rate, the share of New Jerseyans living in true poverty remains stubbornly high, at 24.9 percent. That’s a slight decrease from 2013, when it was 25.3 percent, but far higher than where it was in 2007 (20.9 percent).

While the poverty rate decreased by a small amount for just about every demographic group, including children, for the first time in several years, severe disparities remain. Poverty for black and brown New Jerseyans, while decreasing slightly, remains stubbornly high – about 1 in 5 African-American and Hispanic or Latino New Jerseyans is living below the federal poverty level.

The long-term numbers clearly document the shrinkage of New Jersey’s middle class with the growth in people living below the federal poverty level far outpacing population growth.

These data show a state that’s stuck, and will remain stuck if our leaders focus only on the false cure of reduced taxes and corporate tax breaks as the way to grow the state’s economy. We clearly have a long way to go in rebuilding the state’s economy and creating broad-based growth, but there’s never been a better time to start.

New Jersey has great assets that could help turn the economic tide, but they must be maintained and improved in order for the state to stay competitive. The crumbling transportation network and “pay-more-get-less” public transit system is a perfect example. Instead of investing in this key economic asset, we’ve let it become an albatross around our economy’s neck, scaring off would-be businesses and residents alike.

Between 2007 and 2014:

• New Jersey’s population increased by about 76,000, or 1 percent.

• The number of people who are living below the federal poverty level increased by about 244,000, or 33 percent.

Between 2000 and 2014:

• New Jersey’s population increased by about 568,000, or 7 percent.

• The number of people who are living below the federal poverty level increased by about 322,000, or 50 percent.

Incomes also rose slightly in 2014 but overall continue to stagnate. Median household income increased by about $600 per year to $71,919, but when adjusted for inflation, this remains about $4,500 a year less than it was before the recession and less than it was in 2000.

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