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February 12, 2018

A monumental milestone has been reached by a New Jersey nonprofit, which distributed more than 550,000 tissue grafts worldwide in 2017 - aiding in the care and recovery of an estimated 400,000 people in 50 countries.

MTF Biologics, the world's largest tissue bank, indicates the grafts were created from donated human skin, bone, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and placental tissues. They were used in orthopedic procedures, post-mastectomy breast reconstructions, and to heal wounds - among other purposes.

February 9, 2018

Public school parents in New Jersey believe there is “too much” rather than “too little” standardized testing in their child’s school by a margin of 52 percent to 6 percent. The remaining 39 percent think there is just the right amount of testing. Fifty-five percent of public school parents believe such testing should be a graduation requirement, but 44 percent do not. (When public school parents are combined with parents who have children in other types of schools, the figures tilt in favor of standardized testing — 57 percent to 42 percent.) The findings, released yesterday, are from a Rutgers-Eagleton poll that was conducted late last year.

Other poll results: Most parents who have children in New Jersey’s public schools are satisfied with the quality of the education their children receive, and many of them are very satisfied. Thirty-eight percent believe the specific school their oldest child attends does an “excellent” job and a further 42 percent believe the school does a “good” job. But there are also parents who are underwhelmed by the quality of education, with 14 percent saying the school their oldest child attends is doing a “fair” job, and 5 percent classifying the school’s performance as “poor.”

February 8, 2018

The New Jersey Healthy Communities Network’s Community Grants Program (NJHCN) has awarded $1.3 million to 66 New Jersey nonprofits. The NJHCN is a coalition of six funding organizations that support communities that increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living.

The 66 recipients represent a cross-section of nonprofit, school, and government organizations from across the state. Each will receive a grant of $20,000 over a two-year period.

Each grant will address at least one strategy to increase opportunities for physical activity and one strategy to improve access to healthy eating. Among the initiatives are school-wellness policies, farmers markets, open streets, healthy corner stores, bike racks, walk/bike/food audits, and community gardens.

The funding organizations are Atlantic Health System, New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey Health Initiatives, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, Partners for Health Foundation, and Salem Health & Wellness Foundation.

In addition to funding, grantees are assigned a coach, receive technical assistance, and are evaluated on the impact of the organization’s work.

February 7, 2018

Bipartisan legislation (S-763) revamping and expanding the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) has passed the full Senate. The new program, titled the New Jersey HonorScholars, expands eligibility to students ranking in the top 20 percent of their class. The STARS’ cutoff was 15 percent.

The revamped program will still award scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition at any New Jersey community college. Students who earn an associate degree with a minimum 3.25 grade-point average are eligible for an NJ STARS II scholarship of up to $2,500 per year at any New Jersey public or independent four-year college or university.

Additionally, New Jersey HonorScholars will create new scholarships for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class to attend a four-year institution for four years.

The bill’s sponsors are Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem) and Sens. Sandra B. Cunningham, (Hudson), Robert W. Singer (Monmouth and Ocean), and Linda R. Greenstein (Mercer and Middlesex).

February 6, 2018

Today is the 18th annual National Black HIV Awareness Day.

New Jersey Department of Health officials are marking it by encouraging African-American residents to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their community from HIV/AIDS.

“New Jersey has been making great progress in reducing transmissions of HIV with medical advances in HIV prevention and treatment methods,” said Acting Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “However, minority communities are disproportionately affected, and while African-Americans are 15 percent of New Jersey’s total population they represent 50 percent of those currently living with HIV/AIDS in the state.”

There are more than 37,000 people living with HIV in New Jersey.

While there is still work to be done to ensure everyone knows how to protect against HIV, significant progress is being made within the black community. African-Americans are more likely than other races and ethnicities to report that they have been tested for HIV at least once: 68 percent versus 55 percent for Hispanics and 37 percent for whites, based on data from the New Jersey Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once, and those at higher risk should be tested at least once annually. Healthcare professionals should offer an HIV test as part of routine care.

February 5, 2018

New Jerseyans have decidedly mixed feelings about their home state, according today's Rutgers-Eagleton poll and newly released "2018 State of the Garden State" report.

Nothing upsets residents more than the way their state government has handled taxes: 82 percent of residents say they are dissatisfied — 60 percent consider themselves "very" dissatisfied — with how the government has managed the issue. Three quarters say the same about cost of living and government spending.

Residents' itch to move out of New Jersey has grown in the past decade — from 22 percent in March 2010 to 30 percent. Forty-six percent want to stay exactly where they are and continue living in their current neighborhood, a double-digit drop from when the question was last asked almost eight years ago. Six percent now say they want to move somewhere else in their current town, and 15 percent want to move elsewhere within the Garden State. Millennials are one of the biggest flight risks for New Jersey, with more than a third wanting to move out of the state entirely.

Yet despite an increase in those who want to leave the state, residents continue a longtime pattern of being more positive than negative about New Jersey as a place to live - 61 percent ("excellent"/"good") to 39 percent ("fair"/"poor"). Yet this is a notable drop-off from how residents rated quality of life at the turn of the 21st century and for decades before that, with ratings frequently surpassing the 70 percent mark for most of the poll's history.

February 2, 2018

Don’t break out the bongs just yet, even though Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to legalize marijuana as part of his criminal-justice reform agenda. It seems that not all New Jerseyans are fired up about legalizing marijuana. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, released yesterday, found that while a majority support some changes to existing law, the percentage in favor of the legal sale and use is 42 percent. Fifty-three percent would support something other than the legalized sale and use of the drug, and 27 percent want to maintain the illegal status of recreational marijuana while allowing medicinal use of the drug. A majority of those polled favor revisiting the charges against those previously convicted of marijuana offenses.

February 1, 2018

Which states benefit most in economic terms from immigration and which benefit least? The personal-finance website WalletHub analyzed that aspect of the currently hot-button political issue and released the results this week. Among its findings — New Jersey rates third overall among the states that benefit most from its immigrant population. The others in the top five are New York (1st), California (2nd), Massachusetts (4th), and Delaware (5th). At the other end of the scale are Idaho, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and, last of all, Mississippi.

Other key findings related to the Garden State: New Jersey ranks first among the states for the percentage of foreign-born STEM workers out of its total STEM labor force; second for the percentage of jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses; third for the median household income of its foreign-born population; and eleventh for the percentage of its foreign-born population aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

January 31, 2018

The latest FDU Public Mind Poll indicates that Gov. Phil Murphy is beginning his administration with an approval rating of 35 percent.

Although this is a significant improvement over public support for the outgoing Christie administration, Murphy's numbers are considerably lower than for his past two predecessors when they began their terms in office.

Among adults in New Jersey, around a third (35 percent) say they approve of the job Murphy's doing so far, with a fifth (21 percent) who disapprove and a plurality (40 percent) who don't know enough to register a response.

"At this point, support, or lack thereof, for Murphy is more of a gut reaction. However, it's notable that Murphy fares worse in the so-called 'honeymoon period' than Christie and Jon Corzine," said Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and a professor of political science.

In January 2010, when Chris Christie began his two terms in office, 48 percent approved while 31 percent disapproved. Jon Corzine had the support of 47 percent in March 2006 with a 16 percent disapproval rating.

January 30, 2018

After recent changes to the federal tax code put a $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes, Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell proposed using property-tax payments as charitable contributions to help New Jersey homeowners get around the cap and maybe take a lesser hit when paying their federal taxes.

Unfortunately, that strategy is highly unlikely to work, if a New Jersey Society of CPAs’ poll is anything to go by: Of 828 certified public accountants who were polled this month, more than 70 percent said the maneuver would not pass muster with the Internal Revenue Service.

The accountants pointed out that since taxpayers would receive a benefit from their charitable donation, such as a reduction in their property taxes equal to the amount of their donation, it would not qualify as a contribution. Others warned that the strategy might lead to an increased risk of audit. Some also doubted the IRS would grant a 501(c)(3) status to the proposed creation of related charitable trusts.

January 29, 2018

As the state that gave the world Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey has more than enough street cred. No surprise then, that there were 13 Grammy nominees who either hail from or live in the Garden State at last night's gala:

  • Jack Antonoff (Bergenfield)

  • Cardi B (Englewood)

  • Jean and Marcus Baylor (nominated for their band The Baylor Project, from Morristown)

  • Bill Charlap (Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne)

  • Tom Coyne (Elizabeth)

  • Alex Han (Tenafly)

  • Ice-T (nominated in his band Body Count, from Newark)

  • Jake Luhrs (nominated as part of the band August Burns Red, from Montclair)

  • Christian McBride (Montclair)

  • James Murphy (Princeton Junction)

  • Robert Randolph (nominated with his band Robert Randolph and the Family Band, from Irvington)

  • Bruce Springsteen (New Jersey)

  • SZA (Maplewood)

Honorable mention: Ted Resnick from Flemington installed the red carpet!

January 25, 2018

Today, we clink our glasses for the Garden State’s wine industry and its contribution to the state’s economy. A new study reports that its economic impact in 2016 amounted to $323 million. That was an increase of almost 40 percent over 2011 ($231 million).

It seems the industry’s been on a bit of tear of late. Between 2011 and 2016, wine production here increased by just over 73 percent (from 405,954 gallons to 702,671 gallons). During the same period, the number of wineries in the state went from 38 to 50. By 2016, 1,582 acres here were under the vine.

The study, which was released by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, notes that most wineries in New Jersey are small, producing less than 5,000 cases a year. And most sell their wine directly to consumers through winery tasting rooms.

January 25, 2018

It's always good to have something tucked away for those rainy days, but apparently New Jersey needs to do a lot more tucking. According to the latest iteration of the Pew Charitable Trust's Fiscal 50 Tool, New Jersey could have operated just 4.6 days on its budget reserve, which totaled slightly more than 1 percent of spending, during fiscal year 2017. The 50-state median was 29.3 days, based on reserve funds that totaled eight percent of spending.

January 24, 2018

WalletHub’s recent ranking of New Jersey as the 10th most-educated state is troubling for several reasons. We usually finish in second place, right behind Massachusetts, which is in its accustomed berth. Why the plummet in position? For one thing, WalletHub is factoring all levels of education into its calculations — from high school diplomas and associate degrees (or “college-experienced adults”) to bachelor’s to graduate and professional degrees. All these certificates are hard won, but should they be counted equally?

New Jersey does just fine for bachelor’s (5th) and graduate/professional degrees (7th) but gets pulled down by finishing 26th for high school and 23rd for associate degrees. We think the assessment and the ranking could have been fairer. WalletHub may disagree.

January 23, 2018

Recently released New Jersey jobs data show a loss of 11,400 jobs in December 2017. Although job numbers rose for 2017 overall, the increase wasn’t anything to write home about; it came to 22,900. Unemployment in the Garden State at the end of last year was 5 percent, which was above the total for the previous year (4.7 percent).

The number of people employed in non-farm jobs in the state at the end of December was 4,166,400. Included in that figure were 406,600 jobs in “goods producing,” 249,200 in manufacturing, and 156,100 in construction. The big job numbers were in education, health, and social assistance services (705,000), government (620,300), and the leisure and hospitality industry (369,800). Jobs in mining and logging? 1,300.

January 22, 2018

New Jersey workers stand to lose $21 million in tips a year under a proposed federal Department of Labor (DOL) rule making it legal for employers to pocket their workers' tips as long as they pay those workers the minimum wage, according to a new report released this week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The proposed rule, which was unveiled in December, rescinds portions of longstanding DOL regulations that prohibit employers from taking tips. New Jersey has an estimated 140,000 tipped workers, and they are more likely than nontipped workers to live in poor households and lack any type of health insurance.

January 19, 2018

Spending by the so-called Big Six committees totaled 13.3 million in 2017, but the amount was dwarfed by independent special-interest spending, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).

Independent groups spent $45.4 million on last year's election, more than triple the sum spent by the two state parties and four legislative leadership committees. The governor's seat and all 120 legislative seats were up for re-election.

"Party committees are now regularly outgunned by independent groups during New Jersey's statewide elections," said Jeff Brindle, ELEC's executive director.

In 2007, Big Six committees spent 142 times more than independent groups in the election. By 2017, independent committees spent more than three times the Big Six total. Of the total amount spent by the two groups, the 23 percent share by the Big Six was its lowest ever.

January 18, 2018

H3N2 Virulent flu virus that has knocked NJ for a loop

This year’s influenza outbreak is already the most widespread on record since health officials began keeping track about a dozen years ago, with millions of Americans being infected by emerging and current strains such as the dominant H3N2.

Unfortunately, New Jersey is one of the 26 U.S. states, districts, and territories experiencing high rates of influenza-like illness. The past three weeks have seen a spike in positive laboratory tests for flu throughout the state — particularly in northern and central New Jersey — and in reports of absences in schools and workplaces. Emergency department visits for influenza-like illnesses also have risen during this period.

The flu is nothing to fool around with: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 56,000 influenza-related deaths in the United States for 2012 to 2013.

This year’s vaccination is estimated to be between 10 percent to 30 percent effective, but adults and children are urged to get a flu shot — if they have not yet done so.

While children and people over 65 are most vulnerable, the flu can have complications or be fatal to people of all ages. Women who are pregnant and people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses are also particularly vulnerable.

Enter your ZIP code at www.cdc.gov/flu to find a location near you that is offering flu shots.

January 17, 2018

Rideshare programs like Lyft are a convenient way to get around. Now it appears that they’re a good way to spread some wealth around as well. An economic impact report released by the company indicates that Lyft passengers generated an additional $63 million for local businesses in Newark.

The report also created a profile of Newark Lyft drivers and passengers, including:

29 percent of Lyft passengers use Lyft to connect with public transit;

30 percent of passengers use Lyft to get around when public transit does not operate;

64 percent of drivers identify with a minority group;

71 percent of drivers are the primary earners for their household;

22 percent of rides start in low-income areas.

January 16, 2018

New Jersey’s doctors help keep residents in good health. They don’t do a bad job with the state’s economy either, generating $55.4 billion in economic activity, according to a new report, “The Economic Impact of Physicians in New Jersey,” released by the Medical Society of New Jersey (MSNJ) and the American Medical Association (AMA). That dollar figure translates into 9.8 percent of the state’s economy, with each provider creating $2.4 million on average.

The report also indicates that the state’s 22,697 active physicians support 281,923 jobs; contribute $30.9 billion in total wages and benefits paid to workers (each doctor is responsible for an average of $1.4 million in wages and benefits); and generate $2.7 billion in state and local tax revenue for their communities (which translates into $116,922 for each physician on average).

January 12, 2018

Anyone concerned they won’t be getting their daily ration of chuckles and guffaws without Gov. Chris Christie on hand to bloviate and bully his way through state business, should consider buying one of these: a genuine Chris Christie bobblehead. Manufactured by the National Bobblehead Museum and Hall of Fame, these keepsakes have been specially priced at $13 (down from $20.16), to match the governor’s approval rating in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll. The museum said that of the 500 bobbleheads originally made, only 200 remain. Act now.

January 11, 2018

Two places in New Jersey have made it onto a list of the most expensive ZIP codes in the United States. Woo hoo! Or maybe not — just think about the property taxes. The two are Alpine’s 07620, where the median sale price for a home in 2017 was $1,775,000; that landed it in 50th place among a total of 110 ZIP codes listed, and Short Hills’ 07078 is in 93rd place (median sale price, $1,422,500).

The list, which reflects sales in 2017, was put together by propertyshark.com, the property-research website. It is based on analysis of the sale of single-family homes, condos, and co-op units.

The starkest fact about the compilation is that it includes ZIP codes in only 11 states. And of the 110 ZIP codes listed, 77 are in California; New York comes next, with 19 on the list.

The most expensive ZIP code on the list is in San Mateo County, California: Atherton’s 94027 had a median home sale price last year that was just a whisper below $5 million.

January 10, 2018

A total of 36 women (26 Democrats, 10 Republicans) were sworn in as members of the New Jersey Legislature yesterday, which means 30 percent of all legislators are now women. And half of New Jersey’s women legislators (18) are women of color: nine are black and nine are Latinas. They are all Democrats.

January 9, 2018

When Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State of the State today, he will do so as the most unpopular governor in the history of New Jersey. That may not come as a surprise to anyone following the State House; what’s shocking is how abysmal his ratings actually are. According to today’s Rutgers Eagleton poll, only 5 percent of those surveyed said they will miss the governor when he’s gone: that works out to about 350,000 out of the approximately 7 million adults who live in the Garden State. About 10 times that number said they’ll be glad to see him go — “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Christie’s report card is just as dismal. He earned a D+ for his overall performance; C- for education and schools; C- for economy and jobs; C- for crime and drugs; D+ for transportation and infrastructure; D for state budget; D for state pension fund; and D for taxes.

Christie’s GPA: 1.3 — not exactly a gentleman’s C.

January 8, 2018

Some sobering statistics from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families “Youth Suicide Report”: 5.5 youths per 100,000 between the ages of 10 – 24 killed themselves in 2015, the last year for which complete data is available. The suicide rate for this cohort is lower than for the United States overall. And while the rate for older youths (19 - 24) is on the decline, the incidence of suicide for younger people (10 – 18) is on the rise.

Young men are more likely to take their own lives than young women: 7.7/100,000 compared with 3.1. And males 19 – 24 are far likelier to commit suicide: 14.4 versus 4.7. White non-Hispanics (5.7) and black non-Hispanics (5.6) are equally likely to kill themselves; the rate for Hispanics is 3.4/100,000. Asian/Pacific Islander youths are the most likely to commit suicide: 6.1.

Hanging/strangling/suffocation is the most common means of committing suicide: 48 perent for males, 52 percent for females. Males are more likely to use firearms, while females are more likely to resort to poison.

January 5, 2018

For all the bombast about bombogenesis, winter storm Grayson turned out to be a bit of a bust. The deepest snowfall reported, as of last night, was 17 inches at Cape May Court House, with other parts of New Jersey picking up over a foot of snow. Other areas, however, saw only a few inches of accumulation.

Regardless, Grayson couldn’t hold a shovel to the Great Blizzard of March 1888, according to State Climatologist David Robinson. The three-day storm dumped as much as five feet of snow across the Northeast, with drifts as high as 10 feet.

January 4, 2018

A law passed by the Oregon Legislature that will go into effect this week will let 400,000 residents of rural counties pump their own gas. That leaves New Jersey as the only state that completely bans customers from filling their own tanks.

The prohibition goes back to 1949, when the New Jersey Legislature passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, primarily over concerns about the safety of consumers pumping their own fuel.

As of 2015, New Jersey had more than 10,000 gas station attendants, who made an average of $9.05 an hour, according to the state Department of Labor. In March of that year, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it had recovered $5.5 million in back wages for New Jersey gas station attendants who were not paid minimum wage or overtime in the past five years.

January 3, 2018

If New Jersey seems a tad less crowded of late, you might be onto something. According to United Van Lines’ 2017 National Movers Study, which tracks customers’ state-to-state migration patterns over the past year, New Jersey had an outbound migration rate of 63 percent. Simply said, of all the moves made in the Garden State, 63 percent were to somewhere else. Illinois was the only state with an equally high outbound rate, although more people moved from Illinois, which earned it the outbound crown.

New York (61 percent) and Connecticut (57 percent) made the list of top outbound states for the third consecutive year. Massachusetts (56 percent) reached the top of the outbound list this year.

Those making the outbound trek had numerous reasons for doing so: the most commonly cited was job (39 percent), followed by retirement (28 percent), lifestyle (21 percent), family (20 percent), and health (4 percent).

Despite all the talk about millennials moving out of state, 30 percent of those leaving were 55 to 64, while 28 percent were 64 or older. Millennials were mixed in with the 18-34 group (17 percent).

Perhaps the most distressing stats have to do with income: 42 percent of those leaving the state earn $150,000 or more a year. Twenty-two percent earned $100,000 to $149,999.

So where were all these folks headed? United Van Lines offers regional statistics. The Mountain West was the most popular destination for retirees, with one in four indicating they chose to move to this location for retirement. Top regions attracting movers taking new jobs included the Midwest (61 percent) and Pacific West (59 percent). The region with the largest exodus due to finding jobs elsewhere was the South (61 percent).

January 2, 2018

We have a winner! The year 2018 began with the coldest New Year’s Day on record in the Garden State, with temperatures going as low as 6 degrees. While January is expected to bring below normal temperatures to New Jersey, this winter is — believe it or not — generally expected to be warmer than normal.

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