From the Record:
Poverty levels in New Jersey are bad and getting worse, as a quarter of the state’s households now struggle to afford housing, food, medical care and other necessities, according to a new report by a leading poverty research group.
The study, released today by the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute, says that in one of the nation’s wealthiest states, 2.1 million people live in households that have a hard time meeting their basic needs. That number grew by about 359,000 during and after the Great Recession and now comprises 24.7 percent of New Jersey residents.
Hardest hit is Passaic County, where 37 percent of the residents are poor, followed by Cumberland, Essex and Hudson counties, while Bergen County’s rate stands at 18 percent. Even in Morris, Hunterdon and Somerset and other wealthy counties in northern New Jersey, 10 to 14 percent of the residents are poor, according to the report, which is based largely on 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The number of households having a hard time staying afloat financially highlights the underside of a state where the median household income ranked third in the country in 2011.
“The numbers are very troubling,” said Melville Miller, president of the legal services agency. “It’s very bleak. That awfulness needs the attention of society, writ large.”
The institute defined poverty as living on incomes less than twice the official poverty line. The 173-page report, the seventh annual study by the institute, goes into great detail about how the official poverty rate masks actual financial woes in New Jersey because it fails to account for the higher cost of living in a state where median home prices are twice the national average and rents are 30 percent higher.
Officially, a family of four with an income below $23,550 is considered to be in poverty, with the same figure applying throughout the country. But the report contends that New Jersey households remain poor until their incomes are at least double the official levels.
The poverty rate by the official measure stands at 10.4 percent, less than half the rate as defined by the institute.
While more people struggle to get by, the report cites major obstacles to reversing the trend, including continued high unemployment, wages that fail to keep up with inflation, a loss of middle-class jobs, a lack of low-priced housing and inadequate government aid for the poor. It notes that Superstorm Sandy made things worse by disproportionately damaging housing where lower-income households lived.