New Jersey Still Stuck in Economic Morass; Poverty Rate Keeps Climbing

Colleen O'Dea | September 18, 2014 | Maps, Social
Nearly 1 million residents live in dire economic straits in one of the nation's wealthiest states

The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show New Jerseyans continued to suffer from the effects of the Great Recession four years after its end.

Poverty in the state rose for the sixth straight year in 2013, making New Jersey one of only three states in which the poverty rate rose. Inflation-adjusted incomes dropped, and remain lower than they were in 2007 at the start of the recession, according to data from the 2013 American Community Survey released today by Census officials.

The median household income in New Jersey last year was $70,165. That was almost 1 percent more than the 2012 actual income, but when adjusted for inflation, it actually represented a slight decline from the adjusted 2012 median income of $70,442. And it’s almost 7 percent less than an inflation-adjusted income of $75,316 in 2007.

At the same time, the number of people in New Jersey living in poverty rose to almost 1 million, or 11.4 percent of the population. That’s 6.8 percent higher than the previous year and almost 35 percent more than in 2007, when 8.6 percent of New Jerseyans were considered poor. In 2013, the poverty thresholds ranged from $11,888 for an individual to $23,834 for a family of four.

“The latest Census figures on poverty in New Jersey are distressing but not entirely surprising,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “This is just the latest in a long line of metrics that clearly show the Garden State has not yet recovered from the ravages of the Great Recession. As a result, more of our residents are sliding into economic despair, while in 47 other states the opposite is true.”

New Mexico and Washington were the only other states where poverty grew. Nationally, 15.8 percent of the population was considered poor, unchanged from 2012. Two states — New Hampshire and Wyoming — had declines in both the number and percentage of people in poverty.

“It’s particularly troubling to see the official poverty rate rise when we all know that in high-cost New Jersey, many more struggling residents are living above the poverty line but still failing to make ends meet,” MacInnes said.

Earlier this week, the United Way issued its ALICE Report, which seeks to measure true poverty in a high-cost state like New Jersey. It found that 1.2 million New Jersey households, or 38 percent, were asset-limited, income-constrained and employed (ALICE), and struggled to pay for housing, child care, food, healthcare and transportation in 2012.

New Jersey was one of only seven states in which real median household income declined from 2012 to 2013. Nationally, median income rose by nearly 1 percent over real 2012 income, to $52,250. Fourteen states also had statistically significant increases in income, including Alaska, which pulled ahead of New Jersey and into the spot of second-wealthiest state.

The unadjusted median income rose in a dozen New Jersey counties. Hunterdon remained the wealthiest, with a median income of more than $110,000, 5 percent higher than in 2012. The highest increase was 6.2 percent in Cape May, with a median income of $60,560, while the biggest drop was 5.5 percent in Warren County, with a median income of $67,208.

Meanwhile, the number of people living in poverty rose in all but six New Jersey counties. Poverty increased by 7.7 percentage points in Salem County to 18.4 percent of all residents and dropped by 1.1 percentage points in Hunterdon to 3.3 percent, which was the lowest rate in New Jersey. The highest poverty rate was in Cumberland County, where more than 1 of every 5 residents was considered poor last year.