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August 19, 2016

An ongoing shutdown of state-funded road, bridge, and rail projects due to political gridlock in Trenton over renewing the state Transportation Trust Fund seems to be taking a toll on New Jersey’s economy. Preliminary estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, released by the state yesterday, indicate New Jersey lost 4,700 jobs in July, with more than 3,000 of those losses recorded in the construction industry. The figures seem to confirm warnings by industry experts when the shutdown began last month that the political dysfunction threatened thousands of jobs.

The report also shows the state’s unemployment rate moved up again, from 5.1 percent to 5.2 percent, and it remains higher than the national jobless average of 4.9 percent. To make matters worse, estimated gains from June were scaled back by 4,200 jobs. Still, for the last 12 months, the state remains ahead by nearly 56,000 jobs.

August 18, 2016

New Jerseyans do like to test lady luck. The New Jersey Lottery sold $3 billion in tickets in 2015, an increase of $100 million from the year before. The amount of prizes awarded was $1.828 billion, and after operating costs, the lottery sent about $960 million to the state’s budget.

The most popular lottery games are instant tickets. The top-selling game in 2015 was the $30 ticket for the $5 million Cash Extravaganza. That game garnered $111.6 million. The second most-popular lottery game was the $10 ticket for the $150 million Cash Spectacular. Multistate jackpot draw games are becoming less popular nationwide, according to the New Jersey Lottery’s Annual Report, a phenomenon attributed to “jackpot fatigue.” Sales from Mega Millions and Powerball, while still bringing in more than $100 million, are down from previous years.

August 17, 2016

Only 62.3 percent of students attending a state four-year institution end up graduating – or graduate within six years, according to third way, a Washington think tank. Even worse, eight out of the 12 public colleges (66 percent) would be considered “drop out factories” under other circumstances given that they graduate less than two-thirds of their students. Not all colleges are alike, however. The College of New Jersey has the highest rate of graduates, with 85.67 percent. The lowest completion rate is from New Jersey City University, with 32.97 percent.

August 16, 2016

With 25 percent of all car accidents involving a driver on a cell phone, in 2015 New Jersey increased penalties and launched an awareness campaign aimed at getting drivers to put down their cell phones when behind the wheel. The result? A drop in distracted driving violations of about 28 percent.

In 2014, a law increased penalties for either texting or talking on a cellphone while driving. A first offense will now get you a fine of $200, a second offense $400, and a third offense could not only cost you $600 but also get you a 90-day license suspension.

August 15, 2016

When it comes to DUI, New Jersey could do a lot more. It’s been ranked 44th among all states and the District of Columbia when it comes to how strict it is with those arrested for driving under the influence, according to a recent study from WalletHub, the personal finances website.

Contributing to New Jersey’s poor showing: There is no minimum sentence for a first-time DUI conviction; a second offense puts the driver behind bars for a minimum of two days. Compare that with Arizona, which has the strictest penalties: 10 days jail time for a first offense; 90 for a second. And in New Jersey, DUI convictions do not automatically convert to felonies. In neighboring New York, they do on the second offense.

The most lenient state when it comes to dealing with DUI: South Dakota, which finished 51st.

August 12, 2016

More than 2 million New Jerseyans obtain their healthcare from Health Maintenance Organizations (or HMOs) but only about 217,000 use a commercial provider, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By far the largest number of people enrolled in HMOs use Medicaid. There are 103 HMOs available and only five of them serve the 1.6 million who are on Medicaid. There are 17 commercial HMO providers, but 100 providers offer service to Medicare Advantage users.

August 11, 2016

The number of New Jersey students aged three to 21 with some type of disability classification from the state Department of Education is quite significant – 16.5%. The actual number is 232,401.

The largest group are those classified with a specific learning disability – 5.43 percent, or 76,635. Those with a speech or language impairment totaled 3.3 percent, and “other” was 3.1 percent.

Autism was next in line at 1.3 percent, or 18,726. Other large groups were those classified with multiple disabilities (1.15 percent), preschool disabilities (0.9 percent), and emotional disturbance (0.6 percent). The numbers of children with other specific disabilities, such as traumatic brain injury, visual or hearing impairments, or orthopedic impairments were quite small.

August 10, 2016

Hillary. Trump. Ted. Bernie. There was no shortage of high-wattage personalities at this year’s presidential primaries, and it brought people to the polls. The New Jersey Division of Elections reported on Tuesday that 26 percent of all those registered voted in the June primary. That sounds low, particularly for a presidential election. But it was more than voted in last year's general election, when just 22 percent went to the polls. In the 2014 primary, the last time a federal primary race was on the ballot, the turnout was 8 percent. In 2012, the last presidential primary, 9 percent of all registered voters cast ballots.

The primary turnout number is even more impressive when it’s noted that it counts people who voted against the total number of registered voters -- including those who are unaffiliated with a party. In order to vote in the primary, an individual must be declared with one party or the other, or declare a party that day. Most unaffiliated voters want to stay that way and do not vote in primaries. Comparing the number who voted against the number of registered Democrats and Republicans yields much larger numbers: 51 percent turnout for Democrats and 43 percent for Republicans, or close to 47 percent overall.

August 9, 2016

Rutgers Today, the university’s daily news service, writes that the university is putting the finishing touches on a new master plan that will put the gardens in the same category as the New York Botanical Garden, the United States Botanic Garden and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, by being designated a Horticultural Landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Society.

The university envisions an investment of about $70 million, funded through donations and revenue generated by events at the gardens. New features will include a 1.5-mile educational path dedicated to explaining the evolution of plants, trees, insects, and animals over 400 million years.

The gardens, located off Ryders Lane in New Brunswick, receive about 35,000 visitors a year, have varied attractions including one of the largest collections of American hollies; pollinator gardens; a bamboo forest; a large rain garden; and tree and shrub collections. They also have a weekly farmer’s market and mount family events. Find out more about Rutgers Gardens.

August 8, 2016

As we all know, costs are not the same across the United States. People living in high-price states pay more for almost everything – from real estate to food. If you earn $50,000 in Mississippi, you would need to earn $68,000 to have the same standard of living in Washington, D.C. This is according to a Tax Foundation study, based on Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

What about New Jersey? According to the study, $100 only gets you $87.34 in New Jersey, while $100 is worth $111.98 in Ohio. The District of Columbia, Hawaii, and New York are all more expensive than New Jersey, with California following close behind. The cheapest states to live in are Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

August 5, 2016

New Jersey is sending a large contingent to the Rio Olympics, with 29 athletes currently on the roster. They consist of 16 women and 13 men.

The youngest is 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, from Old Bridge, who made the high-profile women’s gymnastics team and is considered a possible break-out star.

The oldest is Matt Emmons, 35, competing in shooting for his fourth Olympics.

The best known New Jersey athlete is Carli Lloyd, 34, of Delran, a leader of the U.S. women’s soccer team. As World Cup champions, they are the favorite in these games. Tobin Heath, 28, from Basking Ridge, is another midfielder on the team.

Keturah Orji, 20 from Mount Olive, is a favorite in the triple jump. Kelsi Worrell, 22, of Westampton, and Jennifer Wu, 26 of Fort Lee, are also expected to win medals in swimming and table tennis, respectively.

August 4, 2016

About 11 percent of all eligible voters in the state -- 677,000 people -- are Hispanic. Although about 1.6 million Hispanics live in New Jersey, the majority of them are either too young to vote, undocumented, or simply not citizens. Still, 43 percent of New Jersey Hispanics are eligible to vote.

Among those eligible voters, 35 percent are naturalized citizens; this compares with 25 percent nationwide. About 41 percent of Hispanic eligible voters are of Puerto Rican origin, 12 percent are of Dominican origin, 9 percent Cuban, and 5 percent Mexican. More than half of Hispanic eligible voters in New Jersey (52 percent) live in owner-occupied homes. Nearly 30 percent have a family income of $100,000 or more.

August 3, 2016

New Jersey ranks about average when it comes to the number of adults who are aging. In 2014, 20.5 percent of the state’s nearly 9 million population was 60-plus-years-old, according to U.S. Census data. Nationally, that figure is 20.4 percent.

The population is clearly aging, as the baby boom generation gets older. In 2010, only 19 percent of New Jerseyans were 60-plus years, while in 2006, the number was 17.6 percent. Of those who are 60-plus years, only 2.4 percent live in nursing homes and 5.6 percent live in rural areas.

August 2, 2016

Despite not ranking first in any particular category, the Garden State was judged second in the country when it came to its schools, according to Wallet Hub, a personal financial social network. (Massachusetts came in first.)

Seventeen key metrics were considered for the ranking – ranging from test scores, pupil-teacher ratios, dropout rate, school safety, and number of bullying incidents. New Jersey scored high for dropout rate (3), math scores (4), reading scores (5), and lowest pupil-teacher ratio (4). The state ranked 8th for ACT scores, 12th for school safety, 14th for certified teachers, and 30th for average SAT score.

Overall, New Jersey earned a ranking of 3 for both overall school quality and overall school-system safety (which also included things like youth incarceration rates and number of disciplinary incidents).

August 1, 2016

Those summer storms that came blowing through New Jersey broke the back of the heat wave, and doubtless wreaked some havoc due to lightning. In a single year, lightning (known to the weather-wise as “cloud-to-ground flashes”) can strike the Garden State as many as 64,377 times (at least it did in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available). That’s actually a fairly low number: New Jersey was ranked 27th in the continental U.S. for “flash density” (the number of strikes per square mile); neighboring Pennsylvania came in 26th (6.9) and New York was 32nd (4.6).

To get a feel for what serious flash density is like, Florida, which was ranked No. 1, had 24.7 strikes per square mile and a grand total of 1,414,284 flashes.

The most damaging lightning strike in the Garden State occurred in 1926, when a bolt hit the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Storage Depot, part of the Picatinny Arsenal in Rockway Township. At the time, millions of metric tons of WWI surplus ammunition was being stored on site.

The strike kindled a fire, setting off more than 600,000 metric tons of explosives; destroying nearly 200 buildings; and killing 21 people.

The disaster caused $47 million in damages and is considered one of the largest manmade explosions in U.S. history.

Lightning doesn’t need surplus ammunition to be deadly. The National Weather Service has posted a safety tips video to YouTube for what to do if you’re caught in a storm — driving, boating, or hiking.

July 29, 2016

It’s sadly ironic to learn that even as the first woman candidate for president has been nominated by a major party, fewer than 50 percent of the women in New Jersey actually vote, according to new data from Status of Women in the States. In fact, the 47.3 percent who voted according in 2015 is only 2 percent better than the number who did so in 2004 (45.3 percent).

There are a few other statistics regarding political participation that are equally disturbing: Just 30 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. And New Jersey has elected only one black woman representative to the U.S. Congress.

All this helps explain why Status of Woman awarded New Jersey a “D” for political participation.

July 28, 2016

The Department of Environmental Protection has created a new online map tool that plots public-access locations for beaches and waterways in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May counties. Thus far, the tool includes 2,900 access points and highlights parking, the availability of restrooms and food, and other key factors such as a requirement for beach tags or handicap accessibility.

The map currently focuses on ocean beach accessibility, but the DEP is collecting data on 13 other counties that will enable visitors to find access to tidal waterways, with fishing destinations and boating entry points.

July 27, 2016

New Jerseyans like to think of the services they receive — particularly when it comes to things like healthcare — as superior. But a recent study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ranked New Jersey average across the board. It gave the state a score of 51.72, which was 19th in the country.

When it came to priority issues, New Jersey ranked highest in healthy living; actually getting effective treatment and care affordability were all rated average. Most other scores were average, with the other outliers being strong marks for treatments for kidney disease, mental-health and substance-abuse issues, as well as nursing homes. New Jersey received a weak rating for home-hospice care.

July 26, 2016

Regardless of last evening’s heavy rainfall, the state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a drought watch in 12 of the state’s northern and central counties. They are Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren.

A drought watch is not a drought warning — which would call for mandatory restriction of water usage. A drought watch is meant to raise public awareness and seek volunteer cooperation to preserve existing water supplies. The state recommends watering lawns only twice a week in the morning or late evening and using a hand-held hose to water shrubs and and flowers. Other recommendations are to run washing machines and dishwashers only when full and to fix leaky faucets and pipes.

Precipitation deficits over the past three months are as much as 40 percent below average in north Jersey and 25 percent in Central Jersey. More information on the water supply status is available online.

July 25, 2016

Calling government social programs the “invisible hand,” a recent Stockton University study indicated that 60 percent of New Jersey residents said they had never benefited from one. In reality, according to the study, 68 percent of those very same respondents had participated in one or more programs. They just didn’t consider them government social programs.

The respondents had enjoyed benefits from social security, Medicare, student loans, unemployment, and various tax credits.

According to the report, entitlement programs were considered by many people as a “right,” while other programs such as student loans or tax-deferred savings were not identified as government social programs.

July 22, 2016

Going to college in New Jersey is expensive, even for students and families paying in-state tuition at state schools. And a rate increase is never good news, but the 1.7 percent bump at Rutgers University for the 2016-2017 school year is being billed as modest, according to a news release announcing it.

“I am pleased that, once again, we are able to keep tuition and fee increases at Rutgers to a minimum,” said Greg Brown, chairman of the Board of Governors.

The 1.7 percent increase is below Rutgers five-year average of 2.4 to 2.5 percent depending on campus location.

Typical in-state, full-time undergraduate tuition and fees at Rutgers University-New Brunswick will be $14,372 for commuters; students who live on campus will pay $26,632. Comparable increases will be in effect at the Camden and Newark campuses.

July 21, 2016

New Jersey residents favor a variety of schemes to help curb gun violence, but there’s no consensus about what can be done to prevent another mass killing like the one in Orlando last month.

Among the solutions endorsed by Garden State adults, the most favored is preventing those on no-fly lists from buying firearms (81 percent), according to the most recent survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

New Jerseyans also favored providing greater funding for mental health services (73 percent), an “assault weapons” ban (63 percent), and reducing magazine capacity (56%).

There’s far less consensus as to what can be done to prevent mass shootings. A third (36 percent) said that banning so-called assault weapons would make the most difference. Only 5 percent believe that reducing a weapon’s magazine capacity would do much to curb mass killings.

July 20, 2016

Accusations of plagiarism leveled at Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention have flooded social and conventional media. But Gov. Chris Christie has decided that no plagiarism has taken place, because “93 percent is completely different.”

How the governor arrived at the percentage or his quirky definition of plagiarism is not known.

Trump’s speech came under immediate scrutiny because of striking similarities with Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic convention in 2008.

Christie also attributes the flap to the speech being delivered on the first day of the convention, “the worst day.” He’s certain that the story won’t even be mentioned after the convention’s second day.

July 19, 2016

The sizzling temperatures and sweltering weather may have some of us thinking about unchecked fires, but it appears that arsonists prefer slightly cooler weather to undertake their crimes: April, to be exact, at least according to the Uniform Crime Report of 2014 (the last year for which data was available).

The most common targets of arsonists were structures (55 percent), with single-occupancy residences accounting for 23 percent of the structures torched.

Arsonists tended to be men (80 percent) and predominantly white men (72 percent). Juveniles accounted for 42 percent of arson arrests.

All told, arson destroyed $9 million worth of property. The average residential loss was $25,051; commercial/industrial losses averaged $17,090.

July 18, 2016

It doesn’t always seem like it, but New Jersey’s population is pretty young. More than two million of our nearly nine million residents are under 18 years old; that’s 23 percent of our population. And 26 percent of those two million are under the age of five, according to the 2016 Kids Count, an annual survey of child well-being.

Of New Jersey’s children, 48 percent are white; 25 percent identify as Hispanic; 15 percent, black; nine percent, Asian; and 9 percent, “other.” That equates to an increase in the population of Hispanic and Asian children and a reduction in the population of white and black children.

July 15, 2016

Between Zika, West Nile, and encephalitis, virus-carrying mosquitoes have become quite the threat to New Jerseyans. The first human case of West Nile virus in 2016 has been identified as a 48-year-old Camden County man who has been hospitalized.

In 2015, there were 26 cases of West Nile virus in New Jersey, three of which were fatalities, according to the state Department of Health.

There are 59 confirmed cases of Zika virus so far this year, all which are travel-related. The DOH reminds residents to use insect repellent when outdoors, and take other precautions such as using mosquito netting on infant carriers and strollers and eliminating standing water, including wading pools and bird baths.

July 14, 2016

Right now is the time New Jersey residents should be particularly watchful regarding Lyme disease, since the month with the highest rate of confirmed cases is typically July. In 2014, New Jersey had an incidence rate of 29 per 100,000 individuals. Previously, the state has seen rates of up to 53 per 100,000.

Only 14 states contribute to 96 percent of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the country. New Jersey is one of them, along with the rest of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, plus Wisconsin and Minnesota.

July 13, 2016

Data analyzed by Rutgers University found that 4,733 children under the age of 18 entered out-of-home placements in 2015. It also found that the rate of children entering foster care (per 1,000) was 2.3.

According to the most recent data available from the NJ Department of Children and Families, 7,805 children are currently awaiting adoption (“in placement”). Of these children, 2,814 have the goal of adoption, and approximately 90 percent of those will be adopted by foster parents.

The DCF estimates that it finalizes adoptions of nearly 1,000 children every year.

July 12, 2016

Those advocating casino gambling in northern New Jersey have their work cut out for them this November, according to the most recent FDU Public Mind poll.

Only 35 percent of New Jersey voters say they would support a constitutional amendment allowing two counties in north Jersey to each have a casino, in addition to what’s available in Atlantic City. Fifty-eight percent said they were opposed to more casino gambling in the state in general.

The opposition to more casinos held across the board – regardless of gender, political party, level of education, or age. A casino expansion amendment is on the ballot for November.

July 11, 2016

New Jersey ranks ninth in the country when it comes to the number of Latinos who will be eligible to vote in this November’s election, according to the Pew Research Center. That translates to about 831,000 voters.

Less than half of the Latinos in New Jersey -- 48 percent of 1.73 million -- are eligible to vote. Many do not have citizenship and others are too young to vote in the next general election.

The 8th Congressional District, currently represented by Albio Sires, has the highest concentration of Latino voters in New Jersey, with 38 percent. The 8th District spans parts of Hudson, Newark, and Union Counties. The 9th District, which spans parts of Hudson, Bergen and Passaic Counties, has the second-highest concentration of Latino voters, with 27 percent. New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Scott Garrett, the most conservative member of the state delegation, is one of the districts with the most Latino voters in New Jersey at 11 percent. It is being tagged as one of the most competitive districts in the country this year.

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