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July 2, 2015

This holiday weekend’s a good time to think about the remarkable job done by the lifeguards who patrol New Jersey’s beaches. An estimated 2,694 people were rescued by Garden State lifeguards in New Jersey in 2014, according to a [link: http://arc.usla.org/Statistics/public.asp|report] by the United States Lifesaving Association.

That number was far greater than the number of rescues in 2013, when 1,158 people were saved by lifeguards in New Jersey.

A total of 5,551,380 people visited New Jersey beaches in 2014, and the year in general was a safe one, with only three deaths reported among beachgoers: two drownings at unattended beaches and one other fatality of an undisclosed nature.

However, the number of fatalities was still up from 2013, when only one drowning was reported.

Most lifeguard rescues last year involved riptides: 1,762 rescues were riptide-related, while 503 were surfing accidents and 62 were described as “swiftwater-related.”

The USLA has calculated that the chance of someone drowning on a lifeguard-monitored beach at one in 18 million.

July 1, 2015

In Chris Christie’s first year as governor, he surprised many New Jerseyans by [link:/assets/15/0630/2239|cutting $7.5 million] for women’s health clinics – money that would be matched by the federal government 9 to 1. At the time, Christie said the issue was budgetary – and although Democrats refused to believe it, many female Republican legislators said they had to stand with the governor due to the budget crisis.

Christie has cut the money every year since then, resulting in the closure of six family planning clinics around the state. And contrary to what he says in New Jersey, he is telling Republican primary voters that his cutting of the funds is evidence of his pro-life commitment. Despite this, female Republican legislators such as Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), and Assemblywomen Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) and Nancy Munoz (R-Union) voted with the governor.

In a written statement, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said “The governor’s claim that his veto is the result of budgetary issues is an insult to the women and families of this state who have lost access to family planning and preventive health care services because of his funding cuts. This has nothing to do with funding, but rather the governor’s need to pander to a national audience.”

Weinberg has been battling with the governor over this issue since his first veto.

June 30, 2015

Strawberry season is already over in New Jersey but the state blueberry harvest is just beginning. Last year, New Jersey farmers sold $79.5 million worth of blueberries – a 40 percent gain over 2013. Farmers are predicting an even bigger crop this year due to beneficial rainfall, according to the NJ Farm Bureau.

New Jersey is known as a leading producer of the Highbush blueberry, considered a superior commercial blueberry.

Strawberry season is already over in New Jersey but the state blueberry harvest is just beginning. Last year, New Jersey farmers sold $79.5 million worth of blueberries – a 40 percent gain over 2013. Farmers are predicting an even bigger crop this year due to beneficial rainfall, according to the NJ Farm Bureau.

New Jersey is known as a leading producer of the Highbush blueberry, considered a superior commercial blueberry.

To find a list of pick-your-own blueberry farms, go to the [link:http://www.visitnjfarms.org|Visit NJ Farms website].

June 29, 2015

Only 54 percent of private companies in New Jersey offer health insurance to their employees, but that’s significantly higher than the national average, which is 50 percent.

For the most part, the lack of insurance coverage for employees relates only to small businesses, since 95.6 percent of companies with 50 employees or more offer health insurance. That’s about the average nationally.

When it comes to companies with 50 or fewer companies, however, the story is different. Only 44 percent of these companies in New Jersey offer health insurance. Yet again, that’s significantly higher than the country in general; nationally, only 35 percent of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer health insurance.

June 26, 2015

Gov. Chris Christie has warned that he’s sharpening his knife to cut the Democrats’ $35.3 billion budget and accompanying tax hike on incomes of more than $1 million. But according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank, the tax hike, and an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage earners that the Democrats passed, wouldn’t do all that much for income inequality. The top 1 percent of earners, according to NJPP, will see their taxes increase 0.4 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of income earners will pay 0.3 percent less.

June 25, 2015

You know summer is here when towns in New Jersey start hosting their own farmers markets. The Department of Agriculture says there are about 150 community farmers markets this season, most of which are only open one or two days a week. But each features local farm produce and often provides displays from local stores and crafts organizations.

Many of the markets will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) electronic benefit-transfer (EBT) cards, as well as Women Infants Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) coupons, which provide $20 vouchers for locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs

More information and a list of the markets are available on the state Department of Agriculture website.

June 24, 2015

On average, students at New Jersey’s four-year colleges owed $28,109 in student loans when they graduated in 2013, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 70 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees owed money from student loans.

Surprisingly, the four-year institution with the lowest amount of debt was Princeton University. Only 24 percent of its graduates that year had student loans, and the average was $5,552.

Students with the highest amount of debt went to Georgian Court University in Lakewood, a private Catholic institution, with $37,499 in debt and 87 percent of graduates with loans. Next highest was Rider University in Lawrenceville, with $34,837 in debt and 82 percent of graduates carrying loans.

June 23, 2015

New Jersey Transit is adding four round-trip, one-seat-ride trains from New York to the Jersey shore this summer at a cost of $273,000.

The express trains will operate from New York to Bay Head, with no change required in Newark. Two of the round trips will be geared to beachgoers, one to early-morning travellers, and one to late-evening passengers.

The express service will serve Penn Station New York, Secaucus Junction, Newark Penn Station, Elizabeth, Rahway, Aberdeen-Matawan, Red Bank, Long Branch, Asbury Park, and then all stations to Bay Head, without the need for a transfer in Long Branch. A travel-time savings of approximately 25 minutes is expected from the normal travel time between New York and trains such as Belmar, Manasquan, and Point Pleasant.

The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) authorized the funds through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ).

June 22, 2015

Preliminary U.S. Labor Statistics show that New Jersey added another 10,000 jobs in May, bringing nonagricultural employment to 4.012 million jobs. That’s the highest its been since the Great Recession, and it’s inching closer to the high-water mark of 4.092 million jobs in 2008.

But liberal-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective points out that this is only 72 percent of the jobs lost since 2008, compared with neighboring New York (275 percent) and Pennsylvania (113 percent). Nationally, the country has regained 135 percent of jobs lost.

June 19, 2015

New Jersey has the dubious distinction of being home to 17,000 “zombie” foreclosures as of the second quarter of 2015, the greatest number of any state, according to a report by housing-data website RealtyTrac. A “zombie” occurs when a home is foreclosed on and the occupants move out, but the foreclosure is abandoned or never completed by the bank, leaving the empty home still legally in the owner's possession. This often happens in low-income areas, where lenders do not want to assume responsibility for the property and take on the taxes and upkeep.

These foreclosures cause numerous problems. For example, homes often end up in a state of disrepair because no one is maintaining them, which lowers property values. The owners can also find themselves liable for taxes and other charges on a property they do not even know they still legally own.

The number of “zombies” in New Jersey has climbed 40 percent since the second quarter of 2014. Nationally they were down 10 percent over the same period. One reason for New Jersey’s high “zombie” rate is that the state has the country’s longest foreclosure timeline: Nolo.com reports that New Jersey’s timeline lasts 1,103 days -- more than three years.

There were 70,000 foreclosures in state in the second quarter of this year, out of 527,047 countrywide.

June 18, 2015

There have been [link:http://njsp.org/info/fatalacc/pdf/swfcs2.pdf|221] fatalities related to motor-vehicle accidents thus far in 2015, according to the latest statistics published by the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit. Those deaths include drivers (119), passengers (37), bicyclists (2), and pedestrians (63). All told, there have been 208 fatal crashes this year, 14 fewer than 2014’s 222 (down 4.7 percent). There were eight more fatalities in 2014 (232) than in 2013 (224), an increase of 3.6 percent.

June 18, 2015

New Jersey may not be the behemoth it once was in the chemical pharmaceutical industry, but neither is it the laggard it’s sometimes depicted as when it comes to biotech. In 2014, according to a study by EY, the consulting firm formerly known as Ernst and Young, it had 25 publicly traded biotech companies, a 9 percent increase over 2013 and fifth in the country behind San Francisco, New England, San Diego, and New York state.

It’s also important to note that the United States dominates the segment across the globe, with revenues of more than 300 percent of the rest of the major markets.

In terms of the rest of the United States, New Jersey pretty much ranks fourth -- in annual revenues ($8.9 billion), market capitalization ($101 billion), and investment in research and development ($2.9 billion). It is third for net income ($1.4 billion).

June 17, 2015

The number of homeless people in New Jersey has decreased by 13.9 percent, according to "NJ Counts 2015," a report from Monarch Housing Associates. The 2015 study identified 10,211 homeless men, women, and children, down from 11,856 in 2014, a decrease of 1,645. Of these, 6,934 resided in emergency shelters and 2,281 were living in transitional housing. Both counts are down from 2014, but the number of homeless without shelter of any sort climbed from 931 in 2014 to 974 in 2015, an increase of 43 individuals (4.6 percent).

This year's survey identified 1,425 individuals as chronically homeless, down 74 from 2014. A total of 10.5 percent of New Jersey’s homeless adults were between the ages of 18 and 24, while 24.2 percent of the population was under 18. Of the 2,471 children identified by the study, 46 were unaccompanied, a decrease of 33.3 percent from 2014. Some 51.7 percent of homeless children were five years of age or younger.

This year's point-in-time census was held on the nights of January 27 and February 3 and covered every county in the state.

June 15, 2015

Strawberry season is fully upon us -- the first fruit of the New Jersey growing season. There are 531 farms that grow berries in New Jersey with over 13,872 acres harvested, according to the latest USDA agricultural census in 2012.

According to the state Department of Agriculture website, 46 farms in 17 counties allow you to pick your own strawberries. They should be judged based on color and smell, rather than size, and should be consumed as close to picking as possible since strawberries do not ripen after harvest.

June 12, 2015

Hurricane Sandy cost New Jersey residents an estimated $7.8 billion, according to a report from Rutgers University. This number includes insurance-assessed damages to houses and other residences ($5.9 billion) and lost income ($1.4 billion), as well as $532 million in damage to personal vehicles. Private insurance has since paid out $2 billion; flood insurance, $3.3 billion.

New Jersey’s business sector suffered $3.56 billion in damages, as calculated using insurance assessments and loss of sales. As of 2013, $1.1 billion in private insurance had been paid out to businesses; $186 million in loans were also issued by the Small Business Administration.

New Jersey’s municipalities suffered $2.2 billion in damages, calculated by combining the damage to public and community buildings with emergency expenses and loss of tax revenue. A whopping $23.5 billion went to hazard mitigation. A total of $262 million dollars in Community Disaster Loans have been allocated to 81 percent of New Jersey municipalities by FEMA.

According to the report, the remaining unmet need in New Jersey is $28.4 billion.

June 11, 2015

The tourism industry accounted for 9.9 percent of employment -- nearly one in 10 jobs -- in New Jersey in 2014, according to a report by VisitNJ, the state’s official tourism website. This figure includes direct jobs, indirect jobs (such as utilities and financial services), and induced jobs (like food and beverage supply and retailers).

The tourism industry generated 508,000 jobs in New Jersey in 2014. Of these, 315,952 were directly supported; the rest, indirect or induced. The industry represents 6.6 percent of the entire state economy, contributing $36.4 billion dollars to the state GDP in 2014.

Tourism accounted for $10 billion in revenue in 2014, which translated into 4.4 percent more visitor trips, for a total of 93.2 million trips. Hotel room revenue grew by 2.4 percent.

Direct tourism-industry sales rose by 3.7 percent to $40 billion in 2014, up from $38.6 billion in 2013. This is part of a general upward trend; tourism revenues have steadily climbed since 2009, after falling for several years.

June 10, 2015

According to the White House office of the press secretary, the Gallup organization recently estimated that New Jersey’s uninsured rate is now 11.7 percent, down from 14.9 percent in 2013. The report attributed the change to the Affordable Care Act, which prohibited denying coverage and reducing benefits due to preexisting conditions, a change that effects the estimated 3.8 million New Jerseyans who have some sort of health condition.

The act has also extended Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes under 133 percent of the poverty level, bringing Medicaid or CHIP coverage to 415,263 New Jerseyans.

The act has had a myriad of other effects on New Jersey: 172,345 residents have made use of the tax credit established by the program, and health insurers have issued $3.5 million in rebates for spending too little on care.

The report also promised a number of changes in the future: incentive payments to encourage care providers to adopt certified electronic records, increased community health funding for care facilities, and a significant expansion of New Jersey’s healthcare provider training opportunities.

June 9, 2015

Out of New Jersey’s 6,554 bridges, 1,710 are functionally obsolete, according to NJ Transportation by the Numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A bridge is considered functionally obsolete if it can't meet current design standards.

By that measure, 26.2 percent of New Jersey’s bridges are obsolete, compared with 13.9 percent of all bridges in the United States. The country has 83,391 obsolete bridges out of 605,471 bridges in total.

In addition, 624 (9.9 percent) of New Jersey’s bridges are structurally deficient (compared with 11 percent of all bridges -- or 63,207 -- nationally). This means that the bridge in question needs to be repaired or a specific component needs to be replaced. It does not imply that the bridge is in danger of collapse. The classification is assigned when one or more aspects of a bridge (superstructure, deck, or substructure, for example) are rated four or less on a nine-point scale.

It's not just New Jersey's bridges that have problems; anyone who's spent a few hours on its highways and byways knows it can be a rough ride. The state has 39,272 miles of public road, with only 50.4 percent having acceptable ride quality, according to the Transportation Department. Overall, 81.3 percent of the country’s roads deliver an acceptable ride. Ride quality is calculated using the International Roughness Index, a measurement of how much a road deviates from a smooth surface in inches per mile. To be rated acceptable, a road must have an IRI value of less than or equal to 170 inches per mile.

June 8, 2015

Rabies is not a rare disease among animals in New Jersey. Already this year there have been 65 known cases of rabies, including two coyotes in Bergen County.

Rabies can be found in many wild animals, including raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, and foxes. It is also found frequently in cats, which are more frequently determined to be rabid than dogs.

The state health department is urging all pet owners to vaccinate their pets, since once the symptoms appear the disease is almost always fatal. Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of a bite, and symptoms can take 12 days to six months to appear. If treated promptly, the treatment is 100 percent effective.

Anyone who suspects an animal is rabid should avoid contact and call animal control, according to state public health veterinarian Dr. Colin T. Campbell. Rabid animals can appear very aggressive and attempt to attack people and pets. If your pet is bitten, call your veterinarian immediately and try to learn as much as you can about the animal so you may be able to help in its capture. Rabies cases in humans are extremely rare.

June 5, 2015

Businesses in New Jersey shelled out just $0.16 more per $100 in employee wages for workers compensation insurance in 2014 than they did in 1988, according to a report from Propublica.com. But even that miniscule increase goes against the trend: The average insurance premium per $100 in wages has dropped by $1.57 in the past 25 years.

New Jersey employers pay an average of $2.82 per $100 in wages for workers comp, noticeably above the national average of $1.85. Employers in California, by comparison, pay $3.48 per $100 in wages, an amount that is down by $1.84 from the $5.32 they paid in 1988.

June 4, 2015

The number of women-owned businesses in New Jersey has increased by 58.3 percent since 1997, climbing from 155,345 to 245,900, according to a study commissioned by American Express OPEN.

These businesses employ roughly 261,600 people and generate about $47.5 million in sales. New Jersey ranked 25th in growth, 40th in growth in revenue from women-owned businesses, and 37th in terms of employment growth from women-owned firms, placing it 39th in overall economic clout in this area.

Georgia ranked highest when it came to growth, with a 132.2 percent increase in women-owned businesses since 1997 and an 89.7 percent jump in revenues generated by these businesses.

June 3, 2015

When it comes to safety in general, New Jersey ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, according to a new study by Wallethub, the financial services website.

But that number may be a bit misleading because Wallethub considered all types of safety -- financial, road, workplace, home, and community safety. New Jersey suffered most when it came to financial safety (45) and safety from natural disasters (43). To assess financial safety, the study looked at unemployment and foreclosure rates, two areas in which New Jersey has significantly higher numbers than the national average. It also factored in the number of people lacking health insurance.

Still, New Jersey ranked fourth when it came to what most people think of when they think of “safety” -- that of home and community. That category looked at crime statistics, number of law enforcement employees, and suicide rate -- among other considerations.

Workplace safety only rated a 24, and the state was ranked 15th for road safety.

June 2, 2015

Of the nearly 9 million people who live in the Garden State, 882,145 -- or about 10 percent -- are of Asian descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The largest group of Asian New Jerseyans are Indians, with the census recording 357,157 people who say they hail from the subcontinent. The next largest group are Chinese. There are 151,732 Chinese New Jerseyans, not counting 7,286 Taiwanese. The third-largest cohort of Asians in New Jersey are Filipino (134,647).

Koreans make up the fourth-largest group (94,055), followed by Pakistanis (31,958), and then Vietnamese (26,531). The number of Japanese has shrunk to 22,520.

June 1, 2015

New Jersey is a pretty bike-friendly state, according to the new rankings by The League of American Bicyclists, but it's not improving much and could do far better. According to the ratings, the Garden State was awarded 49 out of 100 points; last year it earned 53 points.

New Jersey suffered most in the category of legislation and enforcement, and was particularly criticized for not having a law that requires motorists to leave at least three feet between a car and a bicyclist when passing. The state was also faulted for not having a statewide bicycle plan. The current plan is more than 10 years old.

Still, New Jersey was given kudos for a complete streets policy, dedicated state funding for bicycle issues, and an emphasis on bicycle safety in the highway road plan. It also has an active state advocacy group and share-the-road campaign.

May 29, 2015

A new monthly survey by Thumbtack, an online resource for finding small businesses, shows that small business entrepreneurs are beginning to feel somewhat more positive about the financial outlook in New Jersey.

That’s not to say they feel great. They still list uncertain economic conditions as the top problem in New Jersey business, but most respondents said they were either somewhat positive or positive about the financial outlook in the state, both in terms of revenue and of profitability. Although they were pretty positive about finding qualified employees, very few have made recent hires. They are also worried about having to pass along increased costs to customers.

Nevertheless, in comparison to a similar survey last year, they are less worried about poor sales. And they are still concerned about access to credit.

May 28, 2015

New Jerseyans aren’t as slender as they once were, but they still rank fairly well when it comes to obesity. We’re the 16th least-obese state, according to the most recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which is based on 175,702 interviews across the country. In 2011 and 2012, New Jersey ranked as high as eight and nine, respectively, before falling to 17 in last year’s poll.

Americans are the most obese they’ve been in their history, according to the poll, with a 27.7 percent rate. The obese are less likely to thrive in every area of wellbeing, warns the study. In fact, those who aren’t obese are 322 percent more likely to thrive physically, which isn’t much of a surprise. But they are also 24 percent more likely to thrive financially and 16.6 percent more likely to thrive in “purpose” wellbeing.

The state with the lowest obesity ranking was Hawaii (1), followed by Colorado, Montana, California, and Massachusetts.

May 27, 2015

Almost $16 million in new relief grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency were announced Tuesday by New Jersey’s U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.

The money will be used in the following manner:

  • $3.8 million to continue buyouts of flood-prone properties in Woodbridge, providing money for an additional 98 properties, bringing the total buyouts in that town to 187.

  • $3.7 million to Manville to further fund the acquisition and demolition of 104 properties.

  • $1.9 million to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission from flood damage from Sandy.

  • $1.5 million to Atlantic City to replace a section of the boardwalk damaged as a result of Sandy, and move it behind the seawall built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

  • $5 million to Ocean City to the North Pump Station project, which will eliminate chronic nuisance flooding and make roads withstand the 10-year storm level.

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.

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