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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.

December 21, 2017

The population of the Garden State has reached a record 9 million. Indeed, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, it stood at 9,005,644 on July 1 this year, confirming it as the 11th most populous state in the nation, the same rank it has held since 2005.

Although the population here continues to grow, it is doing so at a snail’s pace — 27,228 new New Jerseyans joined our ranks between 2016 and 2017. That represents an increase of 0.30 percent, which was less than half the national increase (0.72 percent). Still, that’s an improvement on the 2015-2016 growth rate (0.21 percent), a period when the national rate was 0.76 percent.

For the 2000 to 2010 decade, New Jersey came in 34th among the states for growth. But outmigrating millennials might threaten the state’s continued growth.

"The state is at a point where coordinated and purposeful guidance of state investments and incentives to create vibrant, walkable places could improve its prospects for growth, especially among the Millennial population," Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonprofit dedicated to sensible growth and development, said.

December 20, 2017

As expected, although contrary to general Republican talking points, the GOP’s final federal tax plan will raise taxes for the average middle-class and low-income family in New Jersey while cutting taxes for wealthier families.

According to a new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank, the GOP’s plan will give the bottom 60 percent of families in the state — those with incomes below $111,000 — what amounts to less than 0 percent of the tax cut. That's because the GOP plan will load them up with another $331 million in taxes. And, after crunching the numbers, NJPP estimates the top 1 percent of households in the state — those with incomes above $1.4 million — will do nicely; they can look forward to an average tax cut of $8,470.

The plan will also increase by 340,000 the number of New Jerseyans without health insurance by 2027, as a result of its repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

“Like so many families across the country, Republican leaders in Congress are busy this week making last-minute preparations for Christmas," said Jon Whiten, NJPP’s vice president and author of the report. "They are wrapping their expensive gifts to large, profitable corporations in this tax bill that they are rushing through — but they're buying these presents on layaway, and all of us will be the ones to pay the hefty price when the bill comes due."

December 19, 2017

The Christie administration has appropriated close to $15 million from the 2018 budget for increases in the rates of payment to certain childcare providers. Ranging between 1 percent and 4 percent, they will go to childcare centers paid through the Child Care Subsidy Program; the increases will be phased in during the first half of 2018.

There will also be an incentive rate of 4 percent up to 24 percent for centers rated at three or above in Grow NJ Kids, the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) that the departments of Education, Children and Families, and Human Services administer.

About 5,000 childcare providers in New Jersey, serving 65,000 children, receive just over $300 million in childcare subsidies annually.

December 18, 2017

New Jersey isn’t doing much to help prevent kids from starting smoking or assisting smokers of all ages to quit. That’s the conclusion of a report that’s the work of several leading public health organizations, which ranks New Jersey 48th in smoking education and cessation efforts. The state this year spent $500,000 on these programs, just 0.5 percent of the $103.3 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In New Jersey, 8.2 percent of high school students smoke, and 3,500 kids become regular smokers each year. Tobacco use claims 11,800 New Jersey lives and costs the state $4.1 billion in healthcare bills annually.

New Jersey should do better next year on all fronts: The governor just signed A-3338/S-862, which dedicates one percent of cigarette and other tobacco products tax revenues to anti-smoking initiatives.

The report — “Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 19 Years Later” — was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and Truth Initiative.

December 15, 2017

As if to underline the reach of opioids in the Garden State, the latest New Jersey Health and Well-Being Poll by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy finds that 31 percent of New Jersey households were prescribed opioid painkillers within the past year — and one-third of those say they plan to keep leftover painkillers in case of future need.

The rate of opioid prescription ranges from a high of 46 percent of households in southeastern New Jersey to a low of 22 percent in the northeast, the poll found.

“The commonplace nature of prescription opioids puts many thousands in New Jersey at risk of abuse, addiction or worse,” said Joel Cantor, director of the center. He cautioned that the poll’s findings may, in fact, understate the extent to which families hold on to opioids — “as many people know they are not supposed to keep leftover drugs and may be reticent to admit it to telephone interviewers.”

December 14, 2017

A single high-school student-athlete tested positive for any of 80 banned substances in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s 2016-2017 steroid-testing program. In all, 506 student-athletes were tested, 356 boys and 146 girls, drawn from teams that qualified for state tournaments.

The boys who were tested were in football (194 tests), baseball (60), basketball (30), winter track (12), soccer (24), and lacrosse (36 tests). The girls were in softball (30), basketball (24), field hockey (24), swimming (30), soccer (24), winter track (12), and spring track (2).

“It’s terrific that only one student tested positive this year, but we really need the means of testing more broadly to better assess the level of substance abuse. In particular, we’re looking to test for opioids, given the current epidemic,” Steve Timko, NJSIAA’s executive director, said. It costs about $200 to conduct each test (which is done by urinalysis).

As part of its testing program, the NJSIAA gives student-athletes, parents, and coaches access to a website that identifies whether athletic supplements contain ingredients not approved by the association.

December 13, 2017

New Jerseyans see a glimmer of hope for the Garden State following Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial victory, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. After an increasingly pessimistic outlook about the state for the past two years, residents have slightly reversed course: while 60 percent believe New Jersey is still on the wrong track, 30 percent now say the state is headed in the right direction — a double-digit increase since August.

What’s more, a plurality (46 percent) thinks that things will get better under the upcoming Murphy administration; 20 percent, on the other hand, believe things will get worse; 23 percent say they will remain the same; and 10 percent are unsure.

December 12, 2017

The New Jersey Society of CPAs (NJCPA) surveyed accountants recently on the implications of the tax plan Republicans are pushing in Washington, D.C. Seventy percent of 861 CPAs said that if the Republican plan goes through, their Garden State clients will have to pay higher taxes. (The GOP plan calls for the elimination of state and local tax deductions, and would cap the deduction for property taxes at $10,000.)

The CPAs, who noted that “almost all” of their clients take state and local income tax deductions, said hit hardest would be those in the $150,000 to $325,000 income bracket (53 percent), followed by those in the $75,000 to $150,000 bracket (49 percent).

Rather ominously for the long-term health — or, perhaps, wealth — of the Garden State, the CPAs said that elimination of the state and local tax deduction would “definitely” (40 percent) or “somewhat” (39 percent) color the advice they give clients on whether to move out of New Jersey. Only 22 percent said it would affect their advice “not at all.”

December 11, 2017

There are seemingly endless arguments for and against the legalization of recreational marijuana, but the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has come up with an analysis that could hit New Jersey drivers in their wallets — and their fenders. According to HLDI, the first three states to legalize recreational weed — Colorado, Washington, and Oregon — saw accident claims climb, and car insurance rates followed by an average of 3 percent. That could be bad news for New Jersey drivers who now pay$1,375 on average for car insurance, the 14th highest premium in the United States.

December 8, 2017

It’s a shameful number and a shameful act: New Jersey finished 49th on a list of states ranked according to their elder-abuse protections, according to WalletHub, the personal finances website. Nevada was ranked No. 1. California came in at 51.

To determine the ratings, WalletHub’s analysts sifted through data and scored each state and the District of Columbia according to prevalence, resources, and protection and then determined the final scores using 11 weighted factors.

According to one estimate, more than 5 million instances of elder abuse occur each year, 96 percent of which go unreported.

December 7, 2017

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the powerful north Jersey Democrat, paid a $20,446.60 penalty to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to settle a four-year-old complaint against him for failing to report the details of or improperly spending more than $70,000 in campaign funds on expensive dinners, trips, a gym membership, and other personal purposes.

DiVincenzo and campaign treasurer Jorge Martinez quietly paid ELEC to settle the matter last month while not admitting any wrongdoing, saying the money was spent “with the good faith belief” that state law allowed such expenditures.

The amount paid represents 80 percent of the total $25,558.25 fine levied by ELEC. It was paid November 20, the day before commission members agreed to accept it. As part of the deal between the parties, ELEC declared $2,178.15 of the spending had been permitted by law and DiVincenzo submitted amended campaign financial reports and agreed to reimburse his campaign treasury $2,640.94. ELEC released the details of the settlement on Wednesday.

This ends the case that began in 2013 and had floundered for years because for a long time the commission did not have a full legal complement — it must have two members of each political party — and for a year leading up to last March, there were not even enough commission members to hold a meeting. DiVincenzo has been an ally of Gov. Chris Christie and the governor either offered no nominees or nominees from the wrong political party for years.

DiVincenzo went to court and won a ruling that the case against him should be dismissed because of ELEC’s inaction. An appeals court panel reversed that decision three months ago, allowing the commission to move forward against DiVincenzo. There had been talk of an appeal to the Supreme Court, but instead, the matter is settled.

December 6, 2017

The Department of Environmental Protection has awarded an $18.4 million contract for the replenishment of beaches and dunes on southern Long Beach Island using sand dredged from Little Egg Inlet, a major thoroughfare for boat traffic between southern LBI and Brigantine that has experienced serious shoaling, Commissioner Bob Martin announced yesterday.

The contract — awarded to Oak Brook, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. — covers the dredging of 700,000 cubic yards of sand, with an option to dredge an additional 300,000 cubic yards if needed. The DEP is paying for the project using funds from its Shore Protection Program.

The sand will be placed along beaches and on dunes from Ocean Street in Beach Haven and south through Long Beach Township, repairing areas that sustained erosion as the result of storms since the Army Corps completed a $128 million beach and dune construction project that encompassed much of LBI.

December 5, 2017

According to the State Investment Council, the market value of New Jersey’s pension system was $76.34 billion as of October 31. As of the end of October, returns were 4.03 percent since the current fiscal year began on July 1, according to information discussed during last week’s meeting. Calculated from the start of the calendar year on January 1, returns were 12.20 percent. The pension system's assumed rate of return for investments is 7.65 percent.

December 4, 2017

Seventy-five percent of New Jersey residents, regardless of party and age, say they’re not interested in subsidizing profitable nuclear power companies, according to a survey released today by the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Polling. Almost as many (72 percent) indicate that they are worried about the cost of their electric bills going up.

The New Jersey state Senate Environment and Energy Committee and Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee are holding a joint session on the nuclear issue today. According to observers, the Legislature is looking to act on the utility issue in the lame-duck session that will end in January.

Some 69 percent of voters agree that an independent and public assessment should be made to determine if it is economically feasible for PSEG to continue operating its nuclear plants without a subsidy before deciding if New Jerseyans should pay more for their electricity.

December 1, 2017

Today is World AIDS Day. As of June 30, 2017, some 37,255 people were living with HIV or AIDs in New Jersey. According to estimates, about one person in nine living with AIDS does not know it. The rate of new HIV cases in the Garden State has declined about 34 percent in a decade, noted acting Health Commissioner Christopher Rinn, who added, “The number of new AIDS diagnoses went from 1,722 in 2006 to 1,137 in 2015.”

Scientists have recently demonstrated that the chances of transmitting HIV are almost nil when people living with HIV are taking their medication as prescribed and have achieved and maintained an undetectable viral load.

In New Jersey:

  • Nearly 80 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are 40 or older.

  • Women accounted for 33 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS.

  • The number of cases of pediatric AIDS dropped from 12 in 2001 to two in 2015 (83 percent).

  • About 79 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are black or Hispanic.

A complete list of the locations of the state’s 150 AIDS-testing centers is available online.

November 30, 2017

It may be that New Jerseyans are more comfortable at the mall than camping out; a new survey from startup Hipcamp doesn’t go into that much detail. But it does reveal that only 22 percent of state residents enjoy camping, whether snug in an RV or tent or under the stars. That puts the Garden State in 40th place on the camping countdown.

November 29, 2017

The phrase “aging infrastructure” is tossed around so much these days that it’s hard to know exactly what it means, so here’s a real-world example. The Hudson rail tunnel shared by New Jersey Transit and Amtrak turned 107 this week, as did the Portal Bridge. That means both have been in service since before the Titanic set out on its ill-fated maiden voyage or the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line.

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