The state Legislature has made improving the plight of New Jersey’s poor a priority this year, holding several hearings and advancing a number of bills last week.
Lawmakers are looking at how housing, transportation, food, and employment figure into the into problems facing those with lower incomes, and what bills they can advanced to improve the lives of the poor and bring them out of poverty.
Because of New Jersey’s high cost of living, official poverty estimates undercount the number of people struggling to provide for themselves and their families. The federal poverty limit for a family of three is about $20,000. That’s only about a third of the nearly $60,000 needed for one working adult with two children to be able to provide for his family, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator.
Poverty is especially troubling for children; poor children are more likely to suffer from health problems, score lower on standardized tests, drop out of school, encounter violent crime, and ultimately become poor adults.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its small-area poverty estimates, which include data for child poverty by school district. What follows is the at-times-surprising list of the 10 school districts in New Jersey with the highest poverty rates for children age 5 to 17 in 2014.
1. Cape May Point, 70 percent
This small borough at the tip of the state does not have any schools, but sends its students to Cape May City or Lower Cape May Regional, depending on their grade level. Part of its high percentage is a function of its small student population: The data shows only 10 students, seven of whom were estimated to be living in poverty.
2. Wildwood, 51 percent
Along the Jersey Shore still in Cape May County, this vacation spot had 613 students, with 312 of them estimated to be poor.
3. West Cape May, 49 percent
Still in the state’s southernmost county, this small K-6 district had an estimated 37 pupils, 18 of whom were living in poverty.
4. Atlantic City, 46 percent
The fortunes of this resort community have worsened over the past several years with the closing of a number of casinos, leading to increased unemployment and greater poverty. The data shows 2,845 of 6,187 children ages 5 to 17 in this Atlantic County city were living in poverty.
5. Bridgeton, 45 percent
This small city in Cumberland County, which is the state’s poorest, had 2,033 poor children out of a population of 4,534 school-aged children.
6. Salem, 44 percent
Another small South Jersey city district, Salem had 928 school-aged children, with 409 living in poverty.
7. Asbury Park, 42 percent
This Monmouth County shore community that has fallen on hard times is the northernmost school district on the list. Of 2,411 students ages 5 to 17, 1,024 were estimated to be living in poverty.
8 (tie). Lakewood, 41 percent
This Ocean County district had the largest population of any community on the list — 94,405. It also had the largest number of poor children: 9,571 of 23,094 children were estimated to be poor.
8 (tie). Camden, 41 percent
Another of New Jersey’s most distressed cities, Camden had an estimated 6,476 of 15,975 students ages 5 to 17 living in poverty.
8 (tie). Paulsboro, 41 percent
The last district with more than four in 10 children considered poor, Paulsboro is a small municipality in Gloucester County. Of 1,184 children, 487 were poor, the data showed.