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July 28, 2014

New Jerseyans who think the crisis of undocumented children entering the country is a problem for southern border states should think again. Residents -- typically relatives -- accepted 1,504 unaccompanied minors since the beginning of this year. That gives New Jersey the seventh-largest population of undocumented children seeking asylum. Nationally, the total is 30,340.

Only Texas, New York, Florida, California, Virginia, and Maryland have accepted more children. Border states such as Arizona (186) and New Mexico (18) have taken in relatively few children, who typically are fleeing the crises in Honduras and other Central American countries.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, unaccompanied children apprehended by immigration officials are initially held in ORR shelters until a sponsor can be found. A background check is conducted on all sponsors, usually relatives, and in some cases a home study is conducted.

The child is also given vaccinations and medical screenings before being released to a sponsor’s custody. The sponsor must agree to cooperate with all immigration proceedings. Once in New Jersey, these cases are considered by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which has an office in Newark.

July 25, 2014

E-filing taxes has become the norm, not the exception, since New Jersey received 3.3 million electronic tax filings for 2013. That’s up 6.5 percent to 83 percent of taxpayers.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff was pleased with the trend, noting that e-filed returns can be processed faster with fewer errors. Taxpayers are also likely to obtain tax refunds faster.

July 24, 2014

The two New Jersey police officers killed in the line of duty since July 13 were the first officer fatalities since 2012, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The first, Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago, gained national attention after he was gunned down answering an armed-robbery call at a Walgreen’s July 13. The shooter had grabbed the gun from a security guard and announced to bystanders that he was “going to be famous” shortly before firing on the 23-year-old officer.

Just four days later, Waldwick Police Officer Christopher Goodell, 38, was killed in an unmarked police car when a tractor trailer rammed into him and pushed his car into a retaining wall on Route 17.

There have been 484 police officer fatalities in the state’s history.

July 23, 2014

Participation in high-school athletics has increased 11 percent since 2011, with a total of 285,020 students now competing in 32 sports, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Last year alone saw an increase of 5.5 percent.

The sports with the largest number of athletes are outdoor track and field, with more than 37,000 participants; soccer, with more than 33,000 participants; and football with more than 26,000 participants.

The NJSIAA said that participation has increased in less traditional ways. There are now 197 female football players; three years ago there were only three high-school players in the sport.

Female athletes have also increased their participation in wresting, with 83 participants in last year’s winter season.

The NJSIAA is the eighth-largest interscholastic athletic association and offers more championship tournaments than any other state association. It has 428 accredited public and private schools and oversees the activities of about 25,000 coaches and 11,000 officials.

July 22, 2014

Auto thefts are down 32 percent this year, to 682 from May to May, with total motor vehicle thefts down to 763 from May 2013 to May 2014.

In addition to thefts of autos, there have been 32 stolen trucks and buses and 49 other vehicles stolen.

Summer is the most active time for auto thefts so things could change for 2014. However, overall crime has dropped 37.5 percent so far this year.

The typical auto thief is white and male, between the ages of 25 and 29. Unlike many other crimes, however, a substantial amount of auto theft is conducted by women. In the past, statistics show that between 20 percent and 23 percent of those arrested for auto theft are females.

July 21, 2014

Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc.has examined the Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries in the New Jersey counties most affected by Sandy and found that they suffered an elevated risk for certain behavioral health issues.

By analyzing Medicare claims data for Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union counties before and one year after the storm, they found a 2.4 percent increase in depression; 7.8 percent increase in anxiety; 10.6 percent increase in alcohol or substance abuse; and a 12.2 percent increase in PSTD.

Other findings include the fact that Hispanics had the highest rate of depression, followed by whites and blacks.

July 18, 2014

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that New Jersey’s unemployment rate has dropped to 6.6 percent in May, the lowest it's been since May 2008, during the depths of the economic recession.

The number of unemployed residents in New Jersey has fallen below 300,000 (296,00) for the first time since that date, and the state has added 20,100 jobs so far this year. According to the governor’s office, which hailed the low rate, the state has added 141,900 private-sector jobs since February 2010.

Not so fast, however, said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank. While it's good news, New Jersey’s rate of 6.6 percent is still higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent. What’s more, said MacInnes, the state still lags its neighbors New York and Pennsylvania in adding jobs.

New Jersey has recovered 45 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession -- and the differential is due to people giving up on looking, MacInnes said. New York, on the other hand, has recovered 183 percent of its jobs and Pennsylvania has recovered 93 percent. The nation is now at 105 percent of jobs that it had before the recession.

July 17, 2014

"Put sunscreen on" is the mantra in many homes during the summer -- and for good reason. The American Cancer Society estimates that 76,100 cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin caner, will be diagnosed nationwide in 2014. New Jersey alone is expected to see 2,590 cases this year.

Early diagnosis is key to surviving the disease. The state Department of Health is promoting an initiative at parks and beaches this summer to remind residents to take precautions. Called “Choose Your Cover,” it will provide free cancer screenings at six Jersey Shore beaches this Saturday, as well as information and complimentary sunscreen.

The six cancer-screening events will be held between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Belmar Beach, Bradley Beach, Sea Bright Municipal Beach, Brick Beach III, Island Beach State Park, and Ship Bottom. There will be other events through the middle of August, including stops at Perth Amboy, Sea Isle City, Long Branch, Ventnor, Phillipsburg, Brigatine, Belvidere, Whippany, and the Middlesex Municipal Pool.

July 16, 2014

At $2.13 an hour, New Jersey has the lowest minimum wage for 140,000 workers that rely on tips in the Northeast. And now that the regular minimum wage has been increased to $8.25 an hour, labor advocates are arguing that its time to increase the tipped minimum wage as well.

The tipped minimum wage has not increased since 1991, and New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning New Jersey think tank, argues that it has since lost 45 percent of its value. The $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage is the federal minimum, but 31 states plus Washington, D.C., have increased it beyond that requirement. New York’s tipped minimum wage is $4.90 an hour; Pennsylvania’s, $2.83 an hour; Connecticut’s, $5.69 an hour; and even West Virginia is $5.80 an hour. Washington and Oregon have the highest tipped minimum wage at $9.32 and $9.10, respectively.

The average age of a tipped-minimum worker is 31, and according to the report, these workers are twice as likely than other workers to live in poor households and not have any type of health insurance.

July 15, 2014

Nearly 64 percent (63.8 percent) of New Jersey’s African-American children live in single-parent homes, an indicator of the typically poor health outcomes of this population.

Latino children don't fare much better; 46 percent live in single-parent households. The rate for white children is 17.4 percent.

In its push to improve the nation’s wellbeing by creating a “culture of health,” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has begun looking at statistics like these that are social determinants of health. The foundation points to studies that show single-parent households have fewer resources and less stability, which results in poorer health outcomes for children.

Despite the high number of single-parent households in New Jersey, the rate is even higher nationally. New Jersey’s overall rate of children in single-parent households is 29.7 percent. Nationally, it is 35.3 percent. For African-Americans, the rate is 66.87 percent.

What is different nationally is the rate of single-parent households for Latinos. As noted, in New Jersey it is 46 percent but nationally it is 41 percent. The rate is even higher in New York and Pennsylvania -- 55 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

July 14, 2014

The harvest of New Jersey peaches and nectarines is expected to begin this week, a little late by typical standards, due to last winter’s cold. Nevertheless, New Jersey is expected to have a good crop this year of one of summer’s most savored foods. The Garden State is ranked fourth for peach production, after California, South Carolina, and Georgia.

As with many New Jersey crops, the 2012 census showed a drop in the number of farms raising peaches, from 249 to 233. The number of acres with fruit-bearing trees dropped from 5,791 to 4,438. The number of farms raising nectarines dropped from 49 to 15.

All of the state’s peaches are picked by hand and sold to markets, rather than to canneries. The average value of wholesale production in the state is between $30 million and $35 million for more than 60 million pounds.

July 11, 2014

The state Economic Development Authority approved a tax break package of $260 million over 10 years for Holtec International, an energy-products supplier based in Evesham Township in Burlington County.

In return for the tax break, the company said it would move 160 employees to the Camden waterfront and hire an additional 235.

The chief executive officer of Holtec International is an associate of George Norcross, the Democratic powerbroker who hails from Camden. Holtec is designing a small, remote nuclear reactor that will be safer and cleaner, enabling it to reduce greenhouse gases.

The subsidy is the third-largest ever awarded by the state, after the American Dream complex in the Meadowlands and the Revel Casino.

The award, while hailed by state, local, and EDA officials, immediately came under fire by New Jersey Policy Perspective. Gordon MacInness, president of NJPP, issued a statement noting that the tax incentive boiled down to $658,228 per job -- the highest ever for New Jersey and far higher than any of the megadeals occurring across the country.

According to NJPP’s analysis, New Jersey will lose on the deal unless Holtec remains in the state more than 30 years. The company needs to remain in the state only 15 years to get the full tax break.

MacInness also termed the deal an example of a “reckless surge” of business-tax subsidies that have not proven that tax breaks will grow a state’s economy.

July 9, 2014

The majority (57 percent) of 22,318 prisoners in New Jersey correctional institutions are there due to violent crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, and simple assault. Only 18 percent of inmates have been committed for narcotics offenses.

The median total term for all inmates is six years, with 36 percent having terms of more than 10 years. Of those, 5 percent are serving life sentences and 71 inmates are serving life without parole.

The median age of all inmates is 34, with 36 percent of those incarcerated 30 years of age or younger.

July 8, 2014

There is at least one New Jersey company that’s growing: New Jersey Resources, the owner of New Jersey Natural gas, jumped 164 spots on the Fortune 1,000, putting it at 699 on the magazine’s list of America’s top corporations.

The Wall Township company, which clocked in at 863 in 2013, is a gas transportation and distribution company, as well clean-energy investor.

NJR ranked eighth in total revenue in the energy industry last year, with $3.2 billion, an increase of 42 percent over the previous year. It employs 900 people with a net profit of 20 percent, according to the company.

July 7, 2014

The Garden State has 603 school districts statewide for its 565 municipalities. There are some districts that manage elementary schools while sending older children to regional high or middle schools. There are also county vocational school systems.

These school systems comprise 2,001 elementary schools and 443 secondary schools. Additionally, there are 87 charter schools in New Jersey as of the 2012-2013 school year.

The public school enrollment for 2012-2013 was 1.36 million children, with 117,803 teachers. The state sends $7.8 billion to individual systems as state aid.

July 7, 2014

The rate of uninsured dropped by 38 percent since the federal Affordable Care Act became law, according to the Health Reform Monitoring Survey and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

In the third quarter of 2013, 21.2 percent of adult New Jerseyans under the age of 65, were uninsured. In the first quarter of 2014, only 13.2 percent were uninsured.

If anything, according to those who conducted the survey, this rate of adoption is most likely conservative. That’s because the survey was conducted in early March and did not capture those that signed up for coverage in March or afterward.

July 3, 2014

If the weather holds, there will be as many as 139 fireworks displays celebrating Independence Day this week.

Although the vast majority of them (79) are scheduled for the actual July 4 holiday, the four-day weekend allowed many towns to begin celebrations as early as Tuesday and as late as Sunday.

There are more than 30 fireworks celebrations scheduled for tonight but many have a raindate for later in the weekend.

The largest celebration is likely to be in Jersey City, which is holding what it's calling “Freedom and Fireworks” at Liberty State Park. The televised Macy’s Fireworks celebration moved to New York’s East River this year, so the Garden State’s second-largest city decided to mount its own celebration for the benefit of New Jerseyans and West Side New Yorkers.

Many towns have parades and other activities this weekend. For a good list, map, contact information, and raindates see NJ.com

July 2, 2014

The approximately 100,000 babies born in New Jersey are now tested for 55 genetic and biochemical disorders each year by the state’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratories.

The latest test to be added to the list is for Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), a rare genetic disease best known from David Vetter, who died in 1984 at the age of 12, after living his life in a germ-free bubble. It occurs in about one or two New Jersey newborns each year.

New Jersey began screening newborns 50 years ago, and has since identified more than 6,290 genetic and biochemical disorders. New Jersey also requires newborn infants to be screened for hearing loss and critical congenital heart defects (CCHD).

Between 2002 and 2011, hearing loss was detected in 1,106 babies who did not pass their newborn-hearing screening. In addition, three infants with previously unsuspected critical congenital heart defects were detected in the first nine months after implementing the new CCHD screening program in 2011.

July 1, 2014

New Jersey voters are uncertain about who should get much of the blame for this year's pension crisis, but they do think it should be spread around and they don’t think the situation has been handled wisely, according to a new poll from Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press.

When asked whether they approve or disapprove of the governor’s decision to put off scheduled payments to the pension system 49 percent said they didn’t know; 38 percent said they disapproved; and 13 percent said they approved. When asked who was to blame for the problem, 35 percent said Christie was “a lot to blame," while 59 percent said the state legislature was “a lot to blame.”

This kind of dichotomy was evidenced in other poll questions, namely whether respondents approved of Christie’s performance or not. About 50 percent of voters said yes, they approve of the job he’s doing -- even 37 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of public workers support him.

But when asked if their general impression of him was favorable, only 45 percent said yes; 46 percent said they believe he was personally involved in the closure of the George Washington Bridge toll lanes last year; and 55 percent believe he is more concerned with his own political future than governing the state of New Jersey.

June 30, 2014

For once, New Jersey sits atop a ranking of states for something positive. It has the lowest rate of alcohol-related deaths of any state in the country, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only 2.5 percent of all deaths in New Jersey between 2006 and 2010 are deemed alcohol related. That compares to 3.6 percent nationally.

To come up with the ranking, the CDC looked at both chronic causes of alcohol-related disease, such as liver disease, certain cancers, and stroke. It also examined acute causes, such as drowning, suicide, falls, motor-vehicle crashes, and alcohol poisoning.

The study found that in New Jersey there were 19.1 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 population.

In general, the more rural a state, the more likely its rate of alcohol-related deaths was high. Alaska had the highest rate of 7.8 percent.

June 27, 2014

A year after Sandy, the Natural Resources Defense Council took water samples from 3,000 beaches along the nation’s coasts and found that New Jersey had seven of 35 “superstar” beaches -- the most of any state.

A “superstar” beach is one that did not exceed the previous national standard by more than 2 percent between 2009 and 2012, and also one that did not exceed the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Beach Action Value (BAV) by more than 2 percent in 2013. The BAV is a more stringent national standard for beach water quality.

The seven beaches considered superstars are located in Margate, Avalon, Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor, Upper Township, Wildwood Crest, and Pt. Pleasant Beach.

Not all beaches were so clean, however. Although 31 percent of those tested did not exceed the national BAV safety threshold, and 53 others were less than 10 percent above the threshold, 276 were not monitored. There were 9 beaches with more than 10 percent of their samples exceeding the BAV threshold, and one – Beachwood in Ocean County -- had 52 percent of its samples exceeding the BAV.

June 26, 2014

New Jersey has 72 farms that grow only organic crops, which they sell for about $3 million a year.

That’s not a large number of organic farms compared with other states -- even states with a fewer overall number of farms. New Jersey has more than 9,000 farms and Connecticut has fewer than 6,000. But the Nutmeg State has 104 organic farms -- although the value of its crops is only $1.8 million. Nationally, there are 14,326 organic farms with sales of more than $3 billion.

The largest number of the state’s organic farms can be found in Atlantic County, with 11; Hunterdon and Morris each have eight. Of the 72 organic farms, 49 said farming was their primary occupation.

June 25, 2014

Asked whether they would approve a constitutional amendment to “dedicate certain state revenues each year for environmental programs,” 76 percent of respondents to a bipartisan poll said either that they would definitely (50 percent) or probably (22 percent) support it.

What’s more, 69 percent of respondents said they thought programs that protect open space, farmland, and water quality were “extremely important” (26 percent) or “very important “(44 percent). Only 6 percent said it was “not too important.”

Probably the most interesting response, given that many of these funds have been diverted lately to balance the state budget, is that an overwhelming majority (78 percent) said that the state legislature should put the issue as a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The poll was conducted of 600 New Jerseyans by what was described as a bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R).

June 24, 2014

New Jersey was established as an English colony 350 years ago, on June 24, 1664, when the Duke of York -- later King James II -- took over the land from the Dutch.

The territory that we know today was named in honor of Sir George Carteret, who had previously served as governor of the Isle of Jersey. Carteret was given the eastern half of the territory. Lord John Berkley was given the western half. The settlement of Elizabethtown, in 1664, is often considered the beginning of the colony.

Although the territory was briefly given back to Dutch control before returning to English rule, the land continued to be called New Jersey. Carteret’s liberal rules -- prices for land were low and settlers were allowed religious freedom -- created an ethnically diverse population (more diverse than other colonies).

Carteret and Berkley eventually sold their stakes, and by 1702 New Jersey was returned to royal control and annexed to New York, where they shared a governor until 1738, when Lewis Morris was appointed royal governor and New Jersey was considered its own province once again.

June 23, 2014

New Jersey may have 566 municipalities, but it has a larger number of fire departments -- 735 to be exact.

A total of 37,348 firefighters protect nearly 10 million people over 7,418 square miles throughout the state. Of these, 30,392 are volunteers.

Just 50 of these fire departments employ only career firefighters, while 580 are staffed with volunteers. There are 109 fire departments that use a combination of volunteer and career firefighters.

The vast majority of New Jersey firefighters are white men. There are 2,942 minorities serving in the fire houses, and 1,364 women.

June 20, 2014

Police and firefighters would be eligible to receive no more than a 2 percent annual raise from arbitrators for the next three years under legislation that Gov. Chris Christie is expected to quickly sign into law.

Under New Jersey state law, police and firefighters are eligible to go to interest arbitration -- a process similar to that used in professional sports -- if they reach an impasse in their contract negotiations with counties and municipalities.

The 2 percent cap expired in April, and Christie has repeatedly called for its renewal, arguing that the cap on police and firefighter raises is necessary because counties and municipalities are not permitted to increase spending by more than 2 percent annually.

The compromise bill, which passed the Assembly Monday and the Senate yesterday, provides for slightly larger raises than the original three-year legislation by allowing the annual increases to be compounded over the term of the contract; previously, the 2 percent increases were calculated based on the first-year salary.

June 19, 2014

Enough New Jerseyans are fearful of the affects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that a plurality (47 percent) believe private employers are reluctant to hire veterans from Middle East combat zones, according to the Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll.

Indeed, only 33 percent of respondents believe that private employers are eager to hire Middle East combat vets.

While 77 percent of Garden State residents say this country is not doing enough to help these recent veterans return to the workforce, about 47 percent believe half of returning vets have PSTD and a little more than 50 percent believe that employers should be able to take this into account when hiring.

June 18, 2014

Drinking, smoking, violence, and sexual activity are down among New Jersey high school students, while nothing much has changed when it comes to marijuana use and bullying, according to the biannual New Jersey Student Health Survey. The NJSHS, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies, surveys high school students each year to determine health habits.

Although 39 percent of high school students responded to the survey that they had at least one drink in the previous month, that is down from 56 percent in 2001.

Binge drinking is also down from 33 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2013. What’s more, only 6 percent of students said they began drinking before the age of 13, a decline from 33 percent in 2001.

Cigarette use among teenagers is down to 13 percent who said they smoked in the past month. Marijuana use is steady, with 39 percent reporting they had used it one or more times. Use of harder drugs has declined.

Students saying they had been in a fight declined from 35 percent 10 years ago to 22 percent in 2013. Bullying, however, has not changed much, with 15 percent saying they had been victims.

Fewer high school students said they are sexually active, a drop from 47 percent in 2001 to 39 percent in 2013. However, 41 percent of those who are sexually active said they did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse.

The full report is available online.

June 17, 2014

New Jersey is hosting 3,500 athletes this week for the 2014 Special Olympics USA at 12 locations based primarily in Mercer County.

The athletes will participate in aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball. Baseball and triathlon are demonstration sports.

The goal of the Special Olympics is to showcase abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities, promote the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport, and celebrate the transformative power of Special Olympics.

The organization, which was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, provides year-round sports training and athletic competitions.

June 16, 2014

New Jersey may have one of the busiest airports in the country in Newark Liberty, but it ranks 50th among states when it comes to federal funding to support it and its other public airports. The state received only $15.2 million from the federal Airport Improvement Program in Fiscal Year 2013, despite being the air gateway for 17.7 million passengers, according to a report by the Global Gateway Alliance.

The Global Gateway Alliance is an advocacy group promoting the New York metropolitan region’s airport and infrastructure. Its report bemoans the fact that New York is 46th among states for airport funding, while New Jersey is 50th. But even New York received $105 million in grants -- or $2.31 per passenger, while New Jersey received only $0.86 cents per passenger. Delaware, according to the Global Gateway Alliance, received $6,140 per passenger. Smaller states, with lighter traffic, typically received more aid than more populated states. However, even states like Massachusetts ($4.39 per passenger), Pennsylvania ($3.21 per passenger) and Illinois ($4.04) were the beneficiaries of more generous grants.

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