Last week, the Census Bureau released new data that provide insight into New Jersey residents’ economic security and access to healthcare. The data for 2019 show that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many New Jersey households struggled to afford basic needs. Since the onset of the current health and economic crises, even more New Jerseyans have faced hardships, while the difficulties faced by many households who were already struggling have intensified.
Racial and Gender Disparities Persisted During Economic Expansion
According to newly released data from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS), New Jersey’s poverty rate (9.2 percent) had still not fully recovered to pre-recession levels (8.7 percent in 2008). Even though 2019 marked the end of a period of economic growth, nearly one in ten (798,262) New Jersey residents lived in poverty last year.
Racial and gender disparities in poverty rates persisted in 2019. The poverty rate among women (10.0 percent) remained higher than that of men (8.3 percent) in New Jersey. Black (15.6 percent) and Latinx (15.8 percent) New Jersey residents were nearly three times more likely to live below the federal poverty line than white (5.8 percent) and Asian (5.6 percent) residents.
Despite improvements in the child poverty rate, children continued to be more likely to live in poverty than New Jersey residents overall. In total, 229,978 children in New Jersey lived in poverty in 2019. Fortunately, the rate of poverty among children in New Jersey finally decreased to pre-Great Recession levels (12.1 percent) in 2019 after rising steadily for years and spiking at 16.4 percent in 2013.
Similarly, median income finally surpassed pre-recession levels in 2019 following a long and slow recovery from the Great Recession. The real median household income in New Jersey in 2019 was $85,751, a slight increase from 2018 ($83,221, adjusted to inflation). While household income increased overall, not all New Jerseyans benefitted from these gains. Median household income among Black ($56,301), Latinx ($61,624), and American Indian ($72,816) households remains lower than median household income among white ($98,092) and Asian ($126,278) households.
COVID-19 Exacerbates Economic Inequality
The American Community Survey 2019 estimates demonstrate that despite overall improvements on many economic indicators, many New Jerseyans were left behind during a long period of economic growth. Further, more recent data collected through the Census Bureau’s new Household Pulse Survey this summer suggest that conditions have changed drastically since the onset of the pandemic, deepening existing inequities.
According to the most recent Household Pulse Survey, which includes data collected between August 19 and August 31, 2020, the majority of New Jersey residents (53 percent) reported loss of employment income since the onset of the pandemic. The survey also finds that over half of respondents (56 percent) reported difficulties paying for usual household expenses during the coronavirus pandemic. These data also suggest that challenges caused by the current public health crisis disproportionately harmed people of color and households with very low incomes who faced challenges prior to the pandemic. White households were less likely to report difficulties paying for household expenses than all other racial and ethnic groups.
Urgent Action Needed to Build an Economy for the Many
The new Census data highlight the critical need to swiftly pass a robust federal stimulus package that boosts key safety net programs for struggling households. While the economic relief put in place by the federal CARES Act helped many New Jersey residents, the amount and duration of federal relief has fallen far short of the need. Further, many of the households hardest hit by the pandemic, including immigrants and those working in the cash economy, are most likely to be excluded from existing forms of relief. New Jersey lawmakers should take steps to provide relief where the federal government has fallen short in removing barriers to economic stability, such as providing income replacement and stimulus payments to workers excluded from federal support. In addition, federal lawmakers should provide aid to state and local governments to avert cuts to critical services that are more important than ever in a public health emergency. In order for New Jersey to recover from the current crisis successfully, it’s critical that all households have access to the resources they need to live safely and with dignity.