According to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal reform —as reported by the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute — New Jersey’s legal climate ranks 38th in the country, a drop of six points since a prior survey in 2012. That isn’t bad news, it’s bad business: 75 percent of attorneys U.S. companies indicated that a state’s legal environment affects important business decisions, like where to relocate or expand.
The American Tort Reform Associated summed it up succinctly, the NJCI reported, naming New Jersey as its latest “Judicial Hellhole.” With lawsuits like these, it’s easy to see why the Garden State got slapped with the satanic appellation:
A woman is suing the police because she was too drunk to sit in a chair without falling out of it.
A customer took Applebee’s to court when he burned himself bowing his head to pray over a sizzling steak fajita.
A couple has filed a discrimination suit seeking to have excessive flatulence covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute isn’t laughing. It is, however, sponsoring a program of 11 legal issues that New Jersey needs to tackle if it wants to improve its reputation and its legal climate.
While other parts of the country have been experiencing bias-related shootings and mass protests, New Jersey has been relatively quiet. But that doesn’t mean there are no instances of bias-related crime here. There were 164 investigations into racial bias in New Jersey last year, according to a report by the state police, with only 45 of them “cleared” — meaning there was some resolution such as an arrest.
The total number of bias incidents in 2015 was 367; that included ethnic and religious bias, as well as racial. Harassment accounted for 50 percent of all incidents and there were no weapon offenses or killings. There were only two aggravated assaults and 13 simple assaults.
Everyone knows the cost of college textbooks – as well as of textbooks in private high schools – has been rising as fast as the cost of tuition. At Rutgers University, students spend an average of $1,500 a year.
It used to be that you could often buy used textbooks to save some money. No more. Nowadays, most class material comes in electronic form and what you actually buy at the campus store is an “access code” that gains you entry to a website. In effect, textbook purveyors have eliminated the competition and ensured that the price allows for only one individual to buy access for one course, according to NJ PIRG. No longer can you borrow the books from the library or share with a friend.
“We have reached a point where the cost of textbooks has become a barrier to those values of equity and access in education, and access codes are not doing anything to solve this problem,” said Lily Todorinova, the Rutgers Undergraduate Experience librarian.
Most of the United States has seen a decline in undocumented immigrants, due to a relatively steady exchange with Mexico, in which as many Mexicans leave the United States as enter it illegally.
Not so, New Jersey, which has seen an increase of about 50,000 unauthorized immigrants living in the state since 2009. That’s because New Jersey and five other states have seen undocumented population increases from other countries other than Mexico. Nationally, there’s been an increase in undocumented immigrants from Central America, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as Asia (India and China).
Gov. Chris Christie’s poll numbers have dropped to their lowest ever – and that was before yesterday’s opening statements in the Bridgegate trial. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed Christie with a 67 percent unfavorable rating in the Garden State, while only 23 percent of registered voters said they had a favorable opinion of him. This is an all-time low.
Christie fares even worse when it comes to his job ratings, with 69 percent saying they disapprove of the way he functions as governor.
When it comes to individual issues, he also does poorly. Only 15 percent approve of the way he’s handled the pension funding deadlock, 22 percent approve of the way he handles taxes, 25 percent on transportation and infrastructure and 27 percent on jobs and the economy. He also does poorly on schools and education (31 percent approval).
This negativity extends to feelings about the state as a whole, with just 25 percent of voters believing the state is heading in the right direction. The poll also asked voters to judge New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Cory Booker and Robert Menendez. Booker gets high ratings: 55 percent approval. Menendez, who is under federal indictment, does much poorer – 28 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable. But even those ratings are higher than Christie’s.
About 10 percent of New Jersey schoolchildren are “chronically absent,” which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, according to a recent report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). This works out to 136,000 children during the 2014-2015 school year, which is when the survey was conducted. The bulk of the problem seems to occur in the very early grades and in high school.
Most of the chronic absenteeism occurs in 216 districts. According to Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ president and CEO, some of these districts — such as Trenton — have taken a proactive stance toward the problem, and have seen the rates of absenteeism drop from some months of 25 percent to others now at only 6 percent.
Hospital readmissions are a key focus of the Affordable Care Act; any hospital stay can cause costs to soar, and limiting readmissions is not all that difficult to do. The federal government pegs the cost of readmissions at $17 billion annually.
Limiting readmissions requires monitoring patients after they leave the hospital. So a key provision of the ACA is that hospitals are penalized in Medicare and Medicaid payments if hospital admissions remain high.
Through an initiative of the New Jersey Hospital Association, Garden State hospitals have focused on the factors that prevent avoidable readmissions and thus have seen a reduction of 13.3 percent since 2010 – the second highest in the nation after Hawaii. What might be even more surprising is the fact that New Jersey, which had the second highest readmission rate in 2010, now has among the lowest — tied with nine other states. New Jersey’s readmission rate stands at 17.6 percent.
There were 946,000 New Jerseyans living in poverty in 2015, about 10.8 percent of the population. That’s better than 2014, when 11.1 percent of state residents were living in poverty. But the problem was still pretty widespread, as it means 200,000 more people are living in poverty now than in 2007. Poverty is defined by the federal government as having an income of $24,250 for a family of four.
Child poverty is even worse, as 15.6 percent of New Jersey kids live in poverty. In 2007, there were 11.6 percent in poverty.
Statistics are provided by the U.S. Census which released a new report to the press. Legal Services of New Jersey also provided information.
There are 6.1 million licensed drivers living in New Jersey, which works out to 855 drivers for every 1,000 eligible individuals (16 and over in age).
Of these, almost 3 million drive to work alone; 33,000 carpool. Mean travel time is 29.7 minutes, which is one of the longest average commutes in the nation. (Maryland and New York both clock more than 30 minutes.)
Given all of New Jersey’s well-known problems — high taxes, struggling economy, population density, and political paralysis — it could be assumed that the loud complaining among our citizenry is indication of a very unhappy state. Whether that’s true or not is debatable, but what is shocking is that 31 other states are unhappier than we are. That is if you believe the most recent WalletHub survey, which ranks New Jersey 20th happiest among states and the District of Columbia. To create this ranking, WalletHub looked at issues such as economics, health, and depression.
New Jersey actually ranked sixth in the country when it came to “emotional and physical well-being.” The Garden State has the third lowest depression rate and fourth lowest suicide rate and consistently does well on health surveys. On the other hand, New Jersey ranked pretty low when it came to economic or “work environment” issues, coming in at 42nd. It has the third highest long-term unemployment rate. Among the other factors considered were number of work hours, commute time, job security, and income growth.
When it comes to “community and environment rank,” it seems New Jersey falls somewhere in the middle — ranking 24th. One thing in its favor is its low divorce rate — fourth lowest in the country. But other factors such as volunteerism — on which New Jersey typically rates poorly — as well as safety, weather, and leisure time brought this score down.
In New Jersey, women earn on average 80 cents for every dollar that white men earn, slightly above the 79 cents national average, according to studies by the National Women’s Law Center.
If you’re African-American or Latina, the situation is even worse. A recent study by the center found that African-American women earn only 58 cents for every dollar that white men in New Jersey earn. That’s below the national average of 60 cents per dollar for African-American women.
Latinas fare even worse – 43 cents compared to a dollar for white men. The national average for Latinas is 55 cents.
At the start of the school year, 141 districts in New Jersey are still in negotiation for teachers’ contracts. That’s actually well down from last year, but still means roughly a quarter of districts are still negotiating salary and other benefits with their teachers. In the meantime, districts operate on prior contracts. The data comes out of the NJ School Boards Association every September.
It’s something of a triple whammy for students attending New Jersey’s public colleges, and for their families as well. The state’s spending on higher education has plunged precipitously in the past decade, dropping a dizzying 42 percent per pupil between 2004 and 2014, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank. At the same time, the number of students pursuing a secondary education continues to climb, so there are more folks hoping for a slice of an ever-shrinking pie. As a result, many students rack up a significant debt load. Sometimes they can only afford to go to school part time, and in the worst cases are forced to forego a college degree entirely.
Unions estimate that 3,000 construction workers are entering their second month of joblessness because of inaction on the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. Due to a dispute between Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic Legislature, construction has been halted on all but the direst road repair projects and toll-producing highways until the impasse is resolved.
The Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative has estimated that $3.5 billion in roadwork projects are currently idle, during the busy season for roadwork.
“For the thousands of workers that are going on month two without work, disaster isn’t imminent, it’s here,” said Greg Lalevee, chairman of ELEC, in a prepared statement.
“The fact that we have gotten to the point where some legislators are discussing extending unemployment benefits for those out of work shows just how out of hand this situation has become,” continued Lalevee. “This transportation crisis was a self-inflicted wound caused by the inaction of our leaders in Trenton. The conversation shouldn’t be about unemployment benefits, it should be about funding the TTF and getting New Jersey’s middleclass back to work.”
About 1.372 million New Jersey kids are returning to school right about now, a number that has remained pretty steady since before 2010. (The 1.37 million figure is from the prior school year; this year’s numbers have yet to be released, but there is no expectation that they will change significantly.)
What has changed is the ethnic mix. The number of Hispanic children has grown from 295,841 to 359,998 since 2010. These kids outnumber African-Americans, who have dropped slightly from 222,980 to 215,933 in the past five years. The number of Asian children has also grown, from 119,725 to 133,061. Although the number of white children has decreased from 711,662 to 637,003, they still make up the bulk of the public school system.
There are more boys than girls in the state’s public school system — 701,635 versus 662,858.
The county with the largest number of children is Bergen, with 132,134. Middlesex, which has become the state’s second most-populous county, is next with 133,699. Then comes Essex, with 117,208. The county with the smallest number of children in the system is Cape May, by far, with 12,583.
Statewide, charter schools educate 41,619, up from 23,256 in 2010.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).