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October 8, 2015

With gun safety and schools once again making national headlines, it is somewhat shocking that despite the state’s strict gun laws, a significant number of New Jersey high-school students said they had carried a gun in the previous month. (They did not, however, necessarily bring the gun to school.)

Every two years, the federal government requires the state to poll high-school students on a variety of topics concerning behavioral risks (drugs, guns, bullying, cigarettes, sex, and so on). The last published survey, in 2013, showed that [link:|2.9 percent] of New Jersey students said they had carried a gun in the previous 30 days, and 2.7 percent said they had brought a weapon of some type -- gun, knife, club, and the like -- onto school property.

Nevertheless, this was called out as less than the national average, which was 5.5 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

Other than weapons, New Jersey students were considered on par with peers across the country when it came to violence and bullying over the previous 30 days.

Although New Jersey students were engaged in about the same number of bullying incidents and fights, and were relatively equal when it came to depression, they were significantly less likely to attempt suicide (even if they had a plan). About 14 percent of New Jersey’s high-school students said they had seriously considered suicide, while 17 percent of students had done so nationally.

October 7, 2015

When it comes to ethnic and racial diversity, New Jersey has it down: 22 percent of its population is foreign born and five of its cities -- Jersey City, Clifton, Newark, Trenton, and Camden -- are among the top 100 most diverse cities in the country.

But perhaps more surprising is that [link:|52.7 percent] of New Jersey residents were born out of state, including outside of the country, according to a new study by WalletHub, the financial services website.

To be fair, most New Jerseyans were either born nearby or in another country: 16.62 percent of those not born in the Garden State are from the Northeast. Most of the rest were born in the south (3.67 percent) or in a U.S. territory or born abroad to U.S. parents (2.4 percent.) Few New Jerseyans come from the Midwest (1.65 percent) or West (1 percent).

October 6, 2015

New Jersey may call itself the Garden State, but it’s not clear that it actually deserves the title. The Annual Report & Agricultural Statistics from the state Department of Agriculture says New Jersey is ranked [link:|17th] for the value of all vegetables farmed and harvested ($191.7 million). It doesn’t do much better for direct agricultural sales ($33 million), which puts it in 13th place.

New Jersey starts to come into its own with some familiar favorites, although it only scores a surprising seventh place for tomato production (58.8 million pounds). It’s also in the seventh spot for cut Christmas tree farms.

The state’s 50.2 million pounds of blueberries harvested pops it into fifth place, and it moves up another slot for that Thanksgiving favorite -- cranberries (54.2 million pounds).

All stats are based on data from 2013 -2014, the most recent available.

Those interested in keeping tabs on the state’s agricultural assessments can follow the department on Facebook.

October 5, 2015

Identity theft has become the No. 1 fraud complaint among consumers, with a total of 332,646 cases filed with the federal government last year.

By that standard, New Jerseyans aren’t doing that bad; they ranked 19th among states in 2014 with [link:|7,144] complaints made to law enforcement. The number of victims in New Jersey came to about 80 for every 100,000 of population.

Nationally, identity theft is on the rise. But New Jersey went from ranking 12th in 2013 to 19th in 2014, with virtually the same number of complaints each year. The total number of complaints nationally went from 290,000 to 333,000.

Florida is the state with the most identity-theft complaints -- 186 per 100,000 population -- followed by Washington, Oregon, Missouri, and Georgia.

October 2, 2015

Does New Jersey’s high tax rate drive the richest Americans from its borders? The jury seems to be out on that, given that [link:|six] of those listed on the Forbes 400 list, published this week, call New Jersey home. There were 70 New Yorkers on the list, five Pennsylvanians, and seven from Connecticut.

Topping the six is Livingston’s David Tepper, one of four hedge-fund moguls, with a fortune of $11.6 billion. He’s followed by Donald Newhouse, who is listed as living in Somerset County with a net worth of $10.4 billion. Newhouse is the former publisher of the Star-Ledger and co-owner of Advance Publications, which includes, the Star-Ledger and many New Jersey newspapers, and magazine publisher Conde Nast, among other things.

The four others on the list are Leon Cooperman, of Short Hills, worth $3.4 billion; Peter Kellog, also of Short Hills and also pegged at $3.4 billion; Millburn’s John Overdeck with $2.8 billion; and Alpine’s Larry Robbins with $2.3 billion.

October 1, 2015

As the Garden State, New Jersey is justly famous for its tomatoes and bell peppers, cranberries and sweet corn, but it doesn’t top the list for growing and harvesting any of these. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the length of the New Jersey coast, we are [link:|No. 1] in the nation for clam/ocean quahog production, harvesting 17.2 million pounds of these shellfish, according to the “2014 Annual Report and Agricultural Statistics” from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (the most recent figures available).

New Jersey also has the second spot locked up for two other briny treats: sea scallops (5.6 million pounds) and surf clams (18.7 million pounds).

So what about those perennial favorites: tomatoes (7th, 58.8 million pounds), bell peppers (3rd, 97.7 million pounds), cranberries (3rd, 54.2 million pounds), and sweet corn (6th, 48 million pounds).

September 30, 2015

Teaching is a challenging profession; indeed, some argue that it’s a calling not a career. Now the folks at the head of the class can feel good (or better) about where they’ve decided to pursue that calling: New Jersey has been ranked the [link:|fifth-best state] for schoolteachers, according to WalletHub, the personal finance website.

New Jersey has some other good numbers going for it. The state came in third for the overall quality of its school systems, said “2015’s Best and Worst State for Teachers.” It also came in third for per-pupil spending, a topic that needs to be broached gingerly in some settings.

The state posted second for academic and work environment, but only scored 20 for job opportunity and competition (1 = best, 25 = average). Neighboring Pennsylvania took the top spot for job opportunity; 22, for academic environment. New York scored a five for job opportunity; 26, for environment.

September 29, 2015

We certainly try to soak our smokers -- since in New Jersey we add [link:|$2.70] in excise tax for every pack purchased. Although that’s high, it’s not the highest in the country. That distinction goes to neighboring New York, which charges $4.35 per pack in excise taxes. Other high cigarette-tax states include Rhode Island ($3.75), Massachusetts ($3.51), Connecticut ($3.40), Hawaii ($3.20), Vermont ($3.08), Washington ($3.03), and Minnesota ($2.90).

The country’s average is $1.59. Surprisingly, California only charges $0.87. Maybe not so surprisingly, the lowest rates were found in Virginia ($0.30), Alabama ($0.43), North Dakota ($0.44) and North Carolina ($0.45).

September 28, 2015

Human trafficking is a major problem throughout the United States, and that includes New Jersey. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center identified [link:|86] cases in our state this year, through June 15. Last year, it reported 155 cases all told.

Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor against their will.

The majority of cases this year have to do with sex trafficking and involve females (69) and minors (45). Cases of labor trafficking (9) primarily involve domestic or landscaping work.

New Jersey has created a special task force to combat human trafficking. More information is [link:|available online].

September 25, 2015

In his address to the U.S. Congress yesterday, Pope Francis urged the country’s leaders and lawmakers to accept immigrants as if they were their own children, and to welcome people who “travel north in search of a better life.”

It’s a philosophy that New Jersey has long embraced. The state is home to some 1.7 million Hispanics, according to the most recent census, who account for 19.3 percent of the total population.

But how well -- or poorly -- has the Latino population assimilated into New Jersey’s mainstream culture? The unscientific answer is so-so, according to a new report from WalletHub, the personal finance website. The Garden State was ranked [link:|27th] out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of how well integrated the Hispanic population is. New Jersey did best when it came to civic and cultural assimilation taking the 12th spot. It did poorly for educational assimilation, ranking 41st, and somewhat better for economic assimilation, with a 32.

New York and Pennsylvania were ranked 42 and 46, respectively.

In order to assess assimilation, WalletHub compared all locations across 14 key metrics, including English proficiency, educational attainment, and homeownership.

September 24, 2015

The increasing demand for natural gas -- driven in part by plentiful supplies and historically low prices -- calls for an infrastructure that can safely and reliably deliver on that demand. Aging cast-iron and steel pipes aren’t up to the task, which is why Elizabethtown Gas wants to spend more than [link:/assets/15/0923/2336|$1.1 billion] replacing 630 miles of outdated infrastructure. The proposed project, dubbed “SMART” (Safety, Modernization and Reliability Tariff), is now before the Board of Public Utilities. If approved it would take 10 years to complete; by 2027 it would reach some 282,000 Elizabethtown Gas customers in more than 85 communities.

September 23, 2015

If “fair” tax system sounds like a contradiction in terms, consider that New Jersey ranked 18th on a survey of states with the most -- and least -- equitable tax structures, according to a [link:|recent report by WalletHub], the social media site for financial services.

The natural next question is what constitutes “fair.” To establish a baseline, WalletHub polled 1,050 Americans to see what they think a fair state and local tax system looks like. The company’s analysts then compared public perception to data on the real structure of tax systems in all 50 states. The general trend is that all respondents -- whether they identify themselves as economic liberals or conservatives -- believe a fair state and local tax system imposes higher tax rates on wealthy households than on lower- and middle-income households.

How did New Jersey do on the specific data points used to come up with its ranking? No surprise, it was graded 49th out of 50 states for dependency on property taxes (1 = least). It scored a seven for sales and excise taxes, and a 17 for reliance on income taxes (state and corporate). When it came to dependency on other taxes, the Garden State took the 11th spot.

Montana was deemed the state with the fairest tax system; Washington was at the bottom. New York ranked 36th; Pennsylvania, 35th.

September 22, 2015

Everyone knows you can lose weight with diet and exercise, but those pounds are notoriously hard to take off -- and even tougher to keep off. New Jerseyans are no exception to this rule: almost [link:|27 percent] of adult residents are obese, according to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” a new report from The Trust for America’s Heath and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The NIH defines obesity as a body-mass index of 30 and above. (A BMI of 30 is about 30 pounds overweight.)

Hard as it may be to believe, there’s some good news in the report. New Jersey is now ranked 41st among all states and the District of Columbia according to its adult obesity rate -- down two spots from 39th a year ago (using 2014 data).

But most of the findings are disquieting. Blacks who live in the state have the highest obesity rate (36.7 percent), followed by Latinos (28.8 percent), and whites (25.4 percent). Adult men tend more toward obesity than adult women (26.4 percent vs. 23 percent) -- according to data from 2012. And obesity is highest among men and women in the 45-64 age cohort: 31 percent.

Arkansas had the highest adult obesity rate at 35.9 percent; Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent. The report also indicates that adult obesity rates while high have remained relatively stable.

September 21, 2015

Are New Jerseyans finally going to get a break? Yes, according to the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service, which is predicting that personal income will go up [link:|6 percent] this year -- it climbed just 3 percent last year. Also, real state gross product (the equivalent to the national GDP) is predicted by Rutgers to rise 2.3 percent, after years in the doldrums. Last year, state gross product rose only 0.04 percent. Rutgers expects a state expansion of about 2.4 percent a year until 2025.

Just as remarkable, the Rutgers forecast expects consumer prices to drop 0.1 percent this year -- after a rise of 1.3 percent last year.

Rutgers expects the state will continue to have a population growth rate slightly below that of the rest of the nation, but that it will continue to have both higher income and higher productivity than other states.

September 18, 2015

Parents of teenagers worry all the time, and one of the things they worry about most is whether their kids are having unprotected sex -- a serious concern in a world where sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can last a lifetime and unwanted pregnancies can be devastating.

New Jersey parents have some reason to be concerned: A newly released report from indicates that the state ranks [link:|15th] according to the number of high-school students having unprotected sex. That translates into 29.1 percent of students who were “currently sexually active” while 13.8 percent were not using any form of birth control.

The report is based on the CDC’s Youth Behavior Risk Survey for 2013 (the last year that data is available).

Texas had the highest rate of unprotected sex among high-school students; Montana is the lowest at 34th. Not all states were ranked because of incomplete CDC data.

September 17, 2015

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey may be embroiled in controversy, but the actual port wants to make sure the region understands how critical it is to our economy. The New York Shipping Association released an economic-impact study Wednesday that showed that the port is particularly important to New Jerseyans, who most directly benefit from it economically.

Of the 190,100 direct jobs the port provided in 2014, [link:|163,125] of them were to New Jerseyans. When the ancillary impact is factored in, the study estimates that 284,800 jobs are due to the port. That translates into $16.9 billion in personal income, $43.5 billion in business income, and $5.7 billion in taxes -- including $1.8 billion in New Jersey state and local taxes.

The port continues to go through major construction in order to deepen its sea channels and raise local bridges to allow the new “Panamax” sea vessels to dock. The report noted that the port is already seeing growth as an international gateway and hub for North America, with containerized volumes increasing. Further, thanks to a shift away from the West Coast, the port is impacting supply chains throughout the region, the report added.

September 16, 2015

We all know Gov. Chris Christie has been busy campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination this year. But it still comes as something of a shock to realize that the governor has spent [link:|51.1 percent] of 2015 anywhere but New Jersey.

His absence has become a huge issue for the state, because the governor of New Jersey is considered the most powerful state executive in the country. Very little, if any, policy gets moved forward without the governor’s involvement.

Why is New Jersey’s governor so powerful? Because in this case, Christie, and his handpicked running mate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, are the only officials elected statewide. Other states have some elected cabinet members, such as comptrollers and attorneys general. The populace sometimes elects others to executive positions, such as judges. But in the Garden State, if the governor opposes something, the state Legislature, which has a Democratic majority, must override a veto -- something that has yet to happen in Christie’s term.

To find out where Christie is on any given day, take a look at our partner WNYC radio’s [link:|“Christie Tracker.”]

September 15, 2015

Wallethub, the financial services site, recently ranked states in terms of which were the best places to give birth. How did the Garden State rank? A dismal [link:|37th].

The primary reason for the low grade was cost; New Jersey ranked 48th in terms of “budget,” ahead of only Alaska and Connecticut. The state was among the most expensive when it came to both Cesarean and conventional deliveries. It did a bit better for healthcare rank (18th) and baby-friendly environment (13th).

September 14, 2015

New Jersey has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, with 21.6 percent of its nearly 9 million residents foreign-born. Of those, about 525,000 are undocumented, or [link:|5.8 percent] of the total population, according to the American Immigration Council.

That said, 53 percent of our foreign born -- more than 1 million -- are naturalized citizens and eligible to vote. Indeed, 20.5 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters are what is known as “New Americans” -- immigrants or children of immigrants.

September 11, 2015

According to New Jersey police reports, in 2013 there were [link:|426] incidents investigated as bias crimes -- a 17 percent decrease from 2012 -- which resulted in 459 “target-type” offenses. (The most recent year that statewide statistics reporting is available is 2013.)

The most frequent type of offense was racial (164); the largest group victimized by these bias crimes was African Americans (39 percent). Sexual bias was the next most frequent, with 59 homosexual bias incidents out of a total of 63.

There were 43 religious bias incidents, the most frequent against Jews (36).

The most common place of occurrence was a residence (24 percent,) followed by highways and schools. Only 22 percent of these incidents were cleared by arrest, although statistics show that 49 percent were cleared -- how is undetermined. Arrests were down 11 percent, to a total of 101 (72 adults and 29 juveniles).

Harassment was the most frequent type of offence, totaling 218 incidents, followed by 143 criminal mischief offenses.

September 10, 2015

The state Economic Development Authority is slated to consider an additional $318 million in corporate tax subsidies for Camden today; if approved, it will have given out [link:|$2 billion] in subsidies this year alone, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective.

That will top last year’s record of $1.992 billion, with three months still to go.

What’s more, the amount a company gets in return for a promise of a single job has jumped in the past few years: Now, a company gets an average of $99,000 per job that it either brings or keeps in the state. According to NJPP, a liberal-leaning think tank, the amount was below $30,000 before Christie took office.

NJPP takes particular aim at the generous breaks being given companies that move to Camden. According to NJPP, Camden companies have received $862.7 million in tax subsidies since 2013, at a cost of $259,500 per promised job. Further, 67 percent of these jobs already existed in New Jersey: The companies either moved to Camden from elsewhere in the state or promised not to leave.

One more thing: many of the “net benefit” calculations to the state used a 35 year horizon, although companies are only obligated to uphold their end of the deal for 15 years.

September 9, 2015

New Jersey is ranked [link:|third] nationally as to how much competition between different health insurers dropped between 2010 and 2013, according to the American Medical Association. This ranking was included in a report by the AMA analyzing the potential effect of two proposed insurance-industry mergers, between Anthem and Cigna and between Aetna and Humana. The AMA argues that decreasing competition among insurers isn’t in the interest of patients or providers, and could lead to higher prices. The association measured competition by looking at how much of the market in different metropolitan areas was controlled by the largest companies, a measurement similar to that used by federal antitrust regulators.

September 8, 2015

First there was Black Friday; then there was Cyber Monday. Now there is Telephone Tuesday -- the day after Memorial Day, when inbound calls to businesses spike by 34 percent, according to call-analytics firm Marchex

With summer over and eyes turned toward the holidays, many people start looking to get things done -- whether it’s booking holiday travel, getting cars repaired, or making sure college students are squared away with insurance.

According to Marchex, industries like law, finance, real estate, and banking all see call spikes the day after Labor Day. So do cable and satellite companies, which experience a 65 percent increase from callers looking to get the best football deals on sports packages.

September 4, 2015

School attendance counts when it comes to academic achievement. What’s more, absenteeism needs to be addressed early in the school year and with the youngest students before it becomes a chronic problem. That’s the argument of Attendance Works, a nonprofit initiative to encourage school attendance.

When New Jersey fourth graders were asked in 2011 and 2013 if they had been absent three or more times in the previous month, [link:|21 percent] said “yes,” according to research by the organization. For eighth graders, the rate was 19 percent. Three or more days absent from school in a month is considered high absenteeism.

In New Jersey, absenteeism was highest among Latinos (26 percent for 4th graders and 21 percent for eighth graders), followed by African-Americans (25 percent and 20 percent, correspondingly.) It was lowest for Asians (14 percent for fourth graders; 6 percent for eighth graders), with whites exhibiting high absenteeism rates of 19 and 17 percent.

Predictably, children from low-income families and those with disabilities had the highest rates of absenteeism. According to Attendance Works, most absenteeism is not related to truancy but to health and trauma issues, such as asthma, dental problems, and mental health.

September 3, 2015

In celebration of Labor Day, it’s worth noting that the energy sector of the market continues to grow in New Jersey, despite the fact it’s not an oil-producing state. PSEG said that it will increase its workforce by [link:|30 percent] this year, due to modernization efforts, transmission upgrades, hardening infrastructure, and building a new power plant. The state’s largest energy provider is investing $10 billion in infrastructure upgrades in the next few years.

PSEG has hired 800 new employees this year, in addition to hundreds of contractors. It also plans to create 2,000 jobs through its Energy Strong program, which calls for hardening its infrastructure in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Transmission upgrades will result in 6,000 new jobs, and the modernization of its distribution program calls for another 500 jobs. This is in addition to 350 construction jobs to build a new power plant, which will call for 28 full-time permanent workers.

September 2, 2015

New Jerseyans love their cars. Despite an increase in the use of public transportation and in working at home, the vast majority -- [link:|2.9 million] out of 3.8 million -- of New Jersey workers drive alone in their cars and trucks to their jobs everyday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The next most popular mode of transportation to work is carpooling, with 338,538 New Jerseyans choosing it.

Public transportation, excluding taxis, comes next in the lineup, with 216,345 residents relying on it to get to work. About 158,000 people -- the vast majority of them white -- work at home.

Some 124,825 residents walk to work. Taxis are used by about 78,000.

September 1, 2015

Grace, a doe located in the vicinity of Marlboro, has had a foot-long arrow stuck in her face since last November, and now more than [link:|104,000] people have signed a petition calling for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Fish and Wildlife Division to help her.

Fish and Wildlife attempted to tranquilize her last fall but failed, and subsequently suspected she was pregnant. Grace has given birth -- and according to her supporters “is a great mum.” Now they are petitioning the department to follow through on promises to help her. Petitioners also want to create a no-hunting zone throughout the area.

August 31, 2015

It may or may not come as a surprise to some residents, but New Jersey has a dismal rating when it comes to women’s equality, according to Wallethub, the financial services website. The state ranked [link:|38th] in a recent look at 11 metrics that the company said indicate how equal women are in a given state.

New Jersey scored worst when it compared education of women to men -- ranking 41st in the country. Position in this category was determined by how many women had a Bachelor’s degree or higher and how well they did on math tests compared with men.

Women did somewhat better when the report looked at workplace environment, scoring an 18. Factors that made up workplace scores include equal pay, entrepreneurship, number of executives, unemployment, number of minimum-wage workers, and average work hours.

The lack of women in political posts also factored into New Jersey’s poor score for political empowerment, which considered the number of women in federal and state elected positions. New Jersey ranked 27th in the country.

August 14, 2015

As any New Jerseyan will tell you, August is prime time in the Garden State. Tomatoes, corn, and peaches are at the height of their season. Fresh fish -- both ocean and bay -- is plentiful. And it seems that almost all of its 565 municipalities are sponsoring some sort of jazz, music, or other festival to draw crowds.

Of course, the biggest attraction is New Jersey’s [link:|130] miles of beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean. The state also boasts 24 boardwalks along the coast, something New Jersey is almost uniquely known for.

NJ Spotlight is taking a much-needed two-week rest, and many of us plan to spend our time along the ocean reading from our upcoming Summer Reading series of book excerpts -- all related to our beloved Garden State. But don’t worry. We’ll be back on the job before the month is over.

August 13, 2015

Even the most fervent fans of felines would probably admit that New Jersey has something of a cat problem -- at least when it comes to the approximately [link:|400,000] feral cats that call the Garden State home during the summer, according to data provided by the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.

The population, reports the APL, dwindles to 200,000 in the colder months, with the harsh climate killing off some cats and driving others away. Feral cat colonies breed frequently, and rapidly replenish their numbers.

The APL is the founder of Project TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return), a strategy designed to help curb the state's feral cat population. Feral cats are trapped, neutered, and vaccinated for rabies, then released into controlled areas where they are monitored.

While finding homes for the cats might seem more humane, the APL explains that this is unfeasible. The sheer volume of feral cats alone would make this difficult, but there is also the problem of behavior: Feral cats can never really be fully domesticated; as a result Project TNR sends only kittens and friendly adults into foster care.

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