Economic woes and budget cuts have hit those in need hard, sometimes in ways that run under the radar. Civil legal assistance is one such area, as New Jersey’s Legal Services says it’s had to drop the number of cases it takes to 56,427 in 2011, down from 69,300 in 2010 due to staff cuts.
This comes at the same time that the poverty level has increased, with one in four New Jerseyans now living in poverty. According to the agency, the stress of deepening poverty prompts more family problems, including domestic violence and serious health issues, in addition to other recession-related legal problems such as foreclosures, evictions, and debt collection.
Those living within 200 percent of the federal poverty level have at least one civil legal problem requiring the help of a lawyer each year, according to Legal Services. But only 21.7 percent had a lawyer For example, only 27 percent of defendants who live in poverty had attorneys. For other family matters, it was only 4 percent. More than 90 percent of those facing foreclosure had attorney representation.