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May 26, 2015

This past weekend marked the beginning of summer in New Jersey, traditionally the high point of the tourism season in the state. Despite the decline in casino spending, leisure tourists spent $36.3 billion in 2014 (another $3.6 billion was spent by business travellers), an increase of 3.7 percent over 2013, according to Tourism Economics, a Philadelphia-based consultancy.

This year promises an even bigger bump, with more beaches and buildings refurbished since Sandy and an especially long summer. Memorial Day fell early this year, and Labor Day isn’t until September 7.

Most tourists to New Jersey are local -- 92 percent are domestic travellers. And even the majority of the 8 percent of international travellers are from Canada.

Given that, a lot depends on the weather. But forecasters are expecting a mild summer.

May 22, 2015

New Jersey doesn’t fare well against other states when it comes to being a place veterans want to live and retire, according to a recent Wallethub study. Wallethub is a financial website that organizes experts to create rankings.

The biggest problems with New Jersey, it seems, are that there aren’t many veterans living here and very few job opportunities for veterans. New Jersey ranks 49th when it comes to the fewest veterans per 100 inhabitants (only the District of Columbia and New York rank lower). It ranks 50th, just above Maryland, when it comes to the least job opportunities for veterans.

The economic environment for veterans in general got New Jersey ranked 48th, and its healthcare rank was 44th. The economic environment looked at issues like taxes, cost of living, and number of veteran-owned businesses and defense contractors. The healthcare rank took into account the number of VA health facilities per number of veterans and a patient’s willingness to recommend the VA Hospitals, as well as typical issues like number of hospitals, number of physicians, and emotional health of the population.

New Jersey did better when it came to quality of life, ranking 20th. Although it performed poorly on the number of veterans, it did better on issues such as number of arts, leisure, and recreation establishments, the university system, percentage of population over 40, and number of homeless veterans.

May 21, 2015

New Jersey had 9,071 farms in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accounting for over 715,000 acres. (2012 is the most recent year of the national agricultural census.)

That may sound like a lot, but the vast majority of these farms are either retired (27.1 percent); have owners who have primary occupations other than farming (38.1 percent); or earn less than $150,000 a year (21.5 percent).

There are 280 farms with sales between $150,000 and $350,00 a year, 328 farms that are classified as “midsized family farms” with sales between $350,000 and $1 million; and 208 farms that are considered large-scale family farms, meaning they have sales of more than $1 million a year.

There are 18 very-large-scale family farms with more than $5 million a year in sales that each have an average of 1,477 acres. These farms produce $11 billion in market value every year. The other 190 large-scale family farms produce $1.7 billion in market value

Additionally, there are 332 nonfamily farms spanning 53,772 acres that produce $361 million in market value a year.

May 20, 2015

In New Jersey, most parents of small children work. In 2013, there were 642,853 children five years or younger in the state. Of them, 415,143 -- or 66 percent -- had any parent living with them working, according to Kids Count, a report put out by Advocates for Children in NJ.

Some 146,076 children in New Jersey five years or younger had only a single parent.

The average cost of daycare is pretty stiff. For infants (one year or younger), the average cost in 2013 was $11,534. For preschoolers it was $9,546. Those costs represented a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in just one year, from 2012.

May 19, 2015

Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll found that 57 percent of all New Jerseyans favor the death penalty for certain crimes and only 36 percent opposed.

This is despite the fact that New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007.

To no one’s surprise, Republicans support the death penalty more than Democrats (76 percent vs. 45 percent, with independents at 52 percent); males more than females (64 percent vs. 51 percent); and whites more than blacks (65 percent vs. 35 percent). The largest cohort to support the death penalty is between 35 and 59 years old.

College graduates are more likely to support the death penalty (60 percent) than people who didn't graduate from college. And southern New Jersey supports it by 62 percent, while central New Jersey supports it by 60 percent, and northern New Jersey by 52 percent.

May 18, 2015

New Jersey is certainly a diverse state when it comes to religion, according to the new Pew Research Center’s report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape. It should come as no surprise that we have more Catholics and Jews than most states, but we also have more Muslims and Hindus, and we have a large number of evangelicals.

While 67 percent of New Jerseyans say they are Christian, 34 percent of those are Catholics; 13 percent are evangelical Protestants; 12 percent are traditional Protestants; and 6 percent are members of historically black Protestant churches.

The study also counted 1 percent each of Mormons, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

But there are plenty of New Jerseyans -- 14 percent -- who follow other faiths. The largest group is Jewish (6 percent), followed by Muslim (3 percent) and Hindu (3 percent). Some 18 percent of people in New Jersey say they are unaffiliated with any religion; 2 percent of those say they are atheists and 3 percent say they are agnostics.

Nationally, the picture is a bit different, with 70 percent saying they are Christian, only 21 percent of whom are Catholic. Evangelicals make up 25 percent of Christians with only 14 percent saying they are traditional Protestants. Only 6.5 percent say they are members of historically black Protestant churches. Only 1.9 percent of Americans say they are Jewish. Less than 1 percent are Muslim and only 0.07 percent are Hindu. About 23 percent say they are unaffiliated.

May 15, 2015

The state comptroller’s office conducted an audit sample of the Work First New Jersey general assistance program -- a state welfare initiative for employable adults without children at home.

Sampling two months in 2012 and 2013 in Burlington, Camden, and Passaic counties, the comptroller’s office found that these county welfare agencies were providing financial assistance without properly determining eligibility and without referring recipients to mandatory work activities, as the law requires. In just those two months, the comptroller’s office found that $1 million in assistance was improperly provided.

The report found a number of infractions, ranging from lack of income verification, to neglecting to check records of drug convictions and completion of substance abuse programs, to failure to refer employable adults to work or training programs. In Passaic County, 86 percent of the participants reviewed were not referred to work activities, which could have cost the state as much as $650,000 for just those two months.

May 14, 2015

New Jersey boasts one of the highest graduation rates in the country, with a new report finding that 87.5 percent of the state’s entering high school students get their diploma. Using 2013 data, the “Building a Grad Nation” report out of Johns Hopkins University puts New Jersey in the top five among states, well exceeding the national average of 81.4 percent. Still, there remain wide gaps among the different categories of students. For instance, 77 percent of low-income students graduate after four years, compared to 92 percent who are not low-income.

May 13, 2015

The good news in this statistic is that it’s dropped. The bad news is that 58,948 New Jersey children are still living in families on welfare in this state.

A very large number -- 10.5 million or 14 percent -- are living in what Advocates for Children in New Jersey consider crowded housing. And 63 percent of children are living with families in which housing costs exceed 30 percent of income.

The list goes on: There’s been a 26 percent increase in children living below the poverty level, which now total 152,000. There are 333,000 children living at only twice the poverty level, and 500,000 living at 150 percent of poverty. For a family of four, the federal poverty level was $23,500.

As bad as New Jersey looks, by every statistic the state beats the rest of the country. For instance, 33 percent of children are living in families at 200 percent of poverty level. Nationally, that figure is 45 percent.

May 12, 2015

Many people consider this November an “off-year” when it comes to elections, because the highest position on the ballot will be for state Assembly -- the first time since 1999 -- and all 80 seats are up for reelection.

But that also means that candidates running for state Assembly, can't count on any coattails. They have to bring people to the polls themselves. But that doesn’t translate into competitive races, as Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement noted in a statement.

As of May 5, state Assembly candidates had raised $11.5 million, and spent $6.2 million, leaving $5.2 million in cash on hand. Democrats are outraising Republicans about 2 to 1, with incumbents of either party far outpacing challengers 11 million to $0.5 million.

The top 10 money-raisers in order are: Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson): $548,000; Atlantic County Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown: $352,000 (expected to face one of the few competitive races); Deputy Assembly Speaker Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex): $274,263; Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union): $269,774; Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden): $225,941; Assembly Speaker pro tempore Gerald Green (D-Union): $209,692; Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic): $163,531; Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington): $162.484; Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Bergen): $157,969; and Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris): $141,272.

May 11, 2015

Just in time for the summer season, construction on beach and dune replenishment on Long Beach Island begins

Late last week, the Christie administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that a $128 million contract to complete beach and dune projects for Long Beach Island is starting up.

The projects encompass 12.7 miles of beaches in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom, Beach Haven, and part of Surf City. They will complete storm-damage reduction projects that were being built in phases prior to Sandy and will be 100 percent funded by the federal government.

Beach and dune systems will be built ranging from 325 feet to 415 feet wide, and a beach berm will be built up to approximately eight feet above seal level. The dune system behind the beach will be approximately 22 feet above sea level.

The work will be done in 1,000-foot increments in order to minimize disruptions. It will start in Ship Bottom and is expected to work itself to Long Beach by June; Beach Haven, the North Beach section of Long Beach, and Surf City and Loveladies are expected to be completed after the summer season.

May 8, 2015

In 2013, the state created the Economic Opportunity Act, which advocates the use of corporate tax subsidies as a way to attract and keep jobs in the Garden State. But now some advocates are calling for a moratorium on the practice, after the state has awarded $5.4 billion since 2010 -- and $2 billion alone in 2014.

Now, the main sponsor of the act, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is advocating a change in the rules that determine whether a project should get the go-ahead for corporate tax subsidies.

He’s also joining with the liberal-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective in calling for more transparency in the process. NJPP wants to place a moratorium on all new subsidy awards until Treasury produces an annual report detailing the outcomes of past tax breaks, as well as the current- and next-year cost to the state of all subsidies. The Department of the Treasury is required to produce the report as part of a 2007 law. Due to complaints, NJPP says the Economic Development Authority has begun to release some information but has yet to produce a detailed report as the law requires.

May 7, 2015

Although New Jersey continues to lag the rest of the country when it comes to overall employment, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which measures the entrepreneurial economy, ranks the state 10th in its “new economy” index.

While that doesn’t sound terrible, given New Jersey’s pressing problems, the state has dropped six places since 2010. In 2007, New Jersey ranked second and in 2010, it ranked fourth.

The ranking is determined by which states the Kauffman Foundation believes have the ability to adapt to steady economic evolution.

The factors in New Jersey’s positive ranking include the number of patents, its widespread availability of broadband, and industry investment in R&D. It performed poorly compared with other states when it comes to entrepreneurial activity, electronic government, and non-industry investment in R&D.

Massachusetts ranked first in the index, followed by Delaware, California, Washington, Maryland, Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, and Utah.

May 6, 2015

Latinos make up nearly 19 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but unlike most states only 2.6 percent of them are Mexican. According to the American Community Survey, 229,587 people of Mexican origin live in New Jersey, which is more than Cubans, who make up 1 percent of the population in the Garden State. The largest group of Latinos in New Jersey are of Puerto Rican origin, making up 5.4 percent of Hispanics.

About 10 percent of the total population is of “other” Hispanic origin. These include more than 81,000 people from Ecuador, 76,000 from Colombia, 41,000 from El Salvador, and 40,000 from Guatemala.

Nationally, the vast majority of Latinos are from Mexico; the U.S. Census bureau estimates there are 11.6 million Mexicans living in the United States.

May 5, 2015

New Jerseyans don’t believe their governor when it comes to Bridgegate, and his favorability ratings are the lowest ever, according to the Monmouth University Poll taken over the weekend after the indictments of three government officials in what’s become known as Bridgegate. A full 52 percent of registered voters said Christie was personally involved in the decision to close the toll lanes, and 69 percent said he hasn’t been completely honest. Indeed, 56 percent said Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening, with only 33 percent saying he learned of it sometime afterward.

These opinions may have something to do with the fact that Christie’s favorability ratings have been steadily dropping. Only 31 percent of registered voters now say that they see him in a favorable light. That’s down from 70 percent in February of 2013, shortly after the superstorm Sandy.

May 4, 2015

Between 2001 and this past April, a total of 34,739 renewable-energy projects were installed in the Garden State; the vast majority of them -- 34,669 -- were solar deployments. These have received rebates paid by utility customers totaling $364 million.

These days, solar installations no longer receive rebates, but they do still get financial support from ratepayers. Much smaller projects involve biomass, which converts energy from plants and organic material, and fuel cells, which provide energy from chemical reactions. The biggest renewable technology behind solar is wind, with 43 installations.

In total, the state has handed out nearly $390 million in rebates to promote these clean technologies, according to the Clean Energy Office in the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The state wants 22.5 percent of the electricity in New Jersey to come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

May 1, 2015

Most people eligible to drive do so in New Jersey. There were 5.9 million licensed drivers in the state out of a population of 8.7 million in 2010, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Indeed, there were 853 drivers out of every 1,000 people 16 years of age or older.

That seems like a lot, but it's one of the lowest ratios in the country. Only the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Utah, Minnesota, Nevada, and New York were significantly lower.

In New Jersey, more women drive than men -- 51 percent vs. 49 percent, although nationally the ratio is about even.

April 30, 2015

There were 26,558 legal abortions performed in New Jersey in 2011, the last year that we have full statistics for, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's Of the women who had an abortion that year, 56 percent were between the ages of 20 and 29; 26 percent were between 30 and 39. Only 14 percent were for women under 20, and 4 percent were for those over 40.

In New Jersey, 36 percent of the women who sought an abortion were white; 43 percent were black; and 21 percent were of another race or ethnicity. That’s slightly different from the national statistics, in which 55 percent of those who get an abortion are white, 37 percent are black, and 8 percent are labeled “other.”

April 29, 2015

The federal government extended a helping hand to Camden yesterday, naming it one of eight new Urban Promise Zones in the United States. This means that Camden, selected from 125 “vulnerable” applicants, will receive priority status when courting federal grants and investment dollars. Each awardee is assigned one direct point of contact in the federal government to help navigate the application process for these programs. Plus, five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers will serve Camden exclusively -- recruiting and overseeing local volunteers and applying for grants to support health services, economic development, and job growth.

President Obama announced the creation of the program for just 20 cities, rural areas, and tribal communities in his State of the Union address in 2013. Philadelphia was named as one of the first five zones. Yesterday marked the announcement of the second round of winners.

The program is administered through Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to Camden, the new Promise Zones are Minneapolis, Sacramento, Indianapolis, Hartford, St. Louis, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and the Lowlands of South Carolina.

April 28, 2015

What’s the definition of wealthy? One would think that being in the top 1 percent of earners would qualify, and by that definition, Gov. Chris Christie is wealthy. The cutoff point for the top 1 percent in New Jersey was $538,666 in 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank.

Christie earned $698,838, but as of yesterday he was insisting that he and his wife aren’t wealthy.

The average income of the top 1 percent in New Jersey was $1,546,481. The average income of the bottom 99 percent was $57,299.

What does it take to be in the top 0.01 percent of income earners in the Garden State: $10,931,922. The average income of the top 0.01 percent was $32,091,153.

Actually, the report had some good news for New Jersey. Although we are one of the top states in terms of overall wealth, we are only ninth when it comes to income inequality.

April 27, 2015

New Jersey has a higher-than-national-average number of “middle-market” firms, according to a report from American Express and Dun & Bradstreet. Middle-market firms are defined as those with revenues between $10 million and $1 billion a year.

New Jersey’s middle-market companies make up 1 percent of the state’s economy, while nationally they make up only 0.7 percent. New Jersey also has a higher-than-national percentage of large companies (more than $1 billion) but surprisingly they make up only 0.02 percent of the state’s economy, while nationally they make up 0.01 percent. (There are 85 New Jersey companies with revenues of more than $1 billion.)

Like the rest of the economy, small businesses make up the bulk of New Jersey’s business, with 469,911 companies in that category.

April 24, 2015

New Jersey's public-employee pension-system debt grew by about $4.5 billion to a little over $40 billion during the past fiscal year, according to new actuarial reports for the individual funds that were made public earlier this week.

The debt -- known as the pension system's unfunded liability -- represents the difference between the value of what's currently on hand against what is owed to the state's roughly 773,000 current and retired employees.

Though employees have been contributing more in the wake of a 2011 pension reform law, Gov. Chris Christie over the past two fiscal years has reduced promised payments into the pension system that were supposed to be increasing to address the unfunded liability.

The net result of those cuts, which Christie ordered to address budget problems, has been an increase in the unfunded liability

April 23, 2015

Maybe to few people’s surprise, New Jersey has been given a middling ranking when it comes to “eco-friendliness.” Wallethub, the financial services website that organizes experts to rate all sorts of attributes, recently ranked New Jersey as 16th when it comes to states and the District of Columbia in terms of being eco-friendly.

In specific attributes, such as energy consumption, air and soil quality, number of LEED buildings, and total solid waste, New Jersey didn’t rate among the highest or lowest. Indeed, when it came to a signifier, New Jersey joined most “blue” states as being more eco-friendly.

However, New Jersey did perform better with eco-friendly behaviors -- ranking 11th for environmental quality. Eco-friendly behaviors included number of LEED buildings per capita, energy consumption per capita, energy efficiency, gasoline and water consumption per capita, and alternative vehicles per capita. When it came to environmental quality, the ratings were focused on the status quo based on past behavior or a neighbor’s behavior. These factors included air, soil, and water quality; carbon dioxide emissions; and municipal solid waste per capita.

April 22, 2015

The racial makeup of New Jersey is changing every day, and nowhere is it more obvious than in its child population. For the first time in 2013, white children accounted for less than 50 percent of New Jerseyans under the age of 17, according to Kids Count 2015, a report put out by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Hispanics grew to 24 percent of the child population, a 13 percent increase from 2009. African-Americans remained 15 percent of the population, and the number of Asian children grew from 8 percent to 9 percent of the population. The rate of “other races,” primarily those that identified as being of two or more races, also grew from 7 percent to 8 percent.

April 21, 2015

New Jerseyans’ fondness for Gov. Chris Christie is a thing of the past, according to the most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll. When asked to describe Christie with character traits both positive and negative, 64 percent said he was very stubborn; 58 percent said he was “not at all” presidential; 57 percent said he was very arrogant; and 80 percent said was either not at all (44 percent) or only somewhat (36 percent) trustworthy.

But New Jerseyans will give him one thing: 49 percent say he is very smart. (35 percent said he is somewhat smart).

The other traits that seem to describe Christie for New Jersey voters are self-centered (46 percent said very; 30 percent said somewhat); independent (46 percent said very; 32 percent said somewhat); a bully (45 percent said it describes him very well; 29 percent said somewhat); and impulsive (43 percent said very; 32 percent, somewhat).

As might be expected, Democrats were the harshest critics of the governor with independents somewhat less so. But only Republicans thought he was very much a leader (60 percent) and the majority of Republicans also thought he was stubborn. Women had a slightly harsher view of Christie than men, although more women thought he was very smart (50 percent versus 47 percent).

April 20, 2015

About 6,000 New Jersey inmates are released on parole every year, and that’s a good thing, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s because those who are released on parole are much less likely to commit new crimes than those who “max out” their sentences. According the report, 25 percent of those released on parole in New Jersey commit new crimes, while more than 41 percent of those that max out do so.

Although the report notes that max-out prisoners tend to be higher-risk offenders than parolees, when the study controlled for factors such as criminal history, current offense, age, and time served, parolees were still 36 percent less likely to return to prison.

April 17, 2015

About 36,600 New Jerseyans were enrolled in a substance-abuse treatment program on any given day in 2013, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That number, which is derived from a single-day count, has been on the rise since 2010, when it was 30,000.

Of those, 40 percent were in treatment for drug-use only and 14 percent were in treatment for alcohol use. The remaining 46 percent were being treated for both addictions.

Despite these numbers, SAMHSA estimates that most addicts are not receiving treatment. According to its studies, only 7 percent of New Jerseyans with an alcohol-dependence problem were seeking treatment, which is similar to the national statistic. When it comes to illicit drugs, 77 percent of those with a problem do not seek treatment.

April 16, 2015

This is a week in which there is a lot of grumbling about taxes -- with good reason. No one likes writing a check to the government. And while it often gets lost in the debate about immigration, it is interesting to note that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes -- just not many income taxes. But whether or not you are documented, you still have to pay property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) a liberal-leaning Washington think tank, estimates that New Jersey’s undocumented immigrants contribute $613 million to state and local tax levies. That includes $276 million in sales and excise taxes, $285 million in property taxes, and $51 million in state income taxes. (Federal taxes were not considered.) Income taxes, according to the report, are paid by 50 percent to 75 percent of undocumented immigrants using false social security numbers or other documents used to obtain jobs.

If these immigrants were granted permanent legal status, their tax payments would rise to $701 million, according to the report, with most of the rate increase due to additional income taxes.

April 15, 2015

Maybe it's time to reintroduce civics to school curriculums. Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy just completed a survey of New Jerseyans on their knowledge of the U.S. Supreme Court. Professors were disturbed by the findings, such as the fact that most residents ( 54 percent) could not name a single U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Moreover, 44 percent did not know that Supreme Court decisions cannot be appealed to the president of the United States; 40 percent did not know the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights; 60 percent believe the Constitution explicitly protects against discrimination based on sex; and 10 percent of adults could not name any of the rights of the first Amendment (speech, religion, assembly, and press).

Not every finding was as disappointing: 75 percent knew Supreme Court justices were nominated by the U.S. president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and 85 percent knew that the Constitution can be amended. Also, a similar study was conducted in 1989, when it was found that 71 percent could not name a single justice on the Court. Maybe this is progress.

April 14, 2015

The state of New Jersey’s wellbeing has taken a significant dive, according to the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, dropping from 23rd to 34th this year.

The index looks at a variety of factors it says make up someone’s wellbeing: purpose (how well people like what they do each day); social (having supportive relationships and love); financial (managing economic life to reduce stress and increase security); community (liking where you live and feeling safe); and physical (good health and energy).

What’s changed for New Jersey? Well, some of it can be blamed on a shift in methodology, since the components of the rankings this year do not line up exactly with those used in the past. But the state also has dropped when it comes to physical metrics. This year, New Jersey was ranked 20th and last year, it ranked ninth in terms of physical health, but only 26th in healthy behaviors. The other statistic that seems startling -- and is a difficult one to judge -- is that New Jerseyans seem depressed and unhappy. It ranked 43rd this year in terms of purpose and 48th when it came to community.

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