New Jersey’s reputation as a relatively wealthy state relies on an average that obscures a huge gap between the poorest and wealthiest counties.
The most recent data on child wellbeing from the 2016 New Jersey Kids Count report reveals a difference of more than $100,000 between the median income of families with children in the county where families are wealthiest and the one where they are poorest. In 2014, families with children in Hunterdon County had the highest median income of $146,665, while Cumberland families with children had a median income of just $44,606.
That’s significantly larger than the income gap in all households. U.S. Census data shows the median income for all households in Cumberland was higher than for families — $45,339 — and much lower than for families in Hunterdon, the wealthiest county for all households, with a $103,605 median income in 2014.
While its families were the wealthiest, Hunterdon’s children overall only fared second best when all measures — economic, childcare and education, health, and child protection services — were calculated, according to the Kids Count report. Morris County held the top spot, while Cumberland was last. Both those counties ranked the same in the 2015 report.
The recently released state report noted, “The economic stability of New Jersey’s families is a critical component in improving and maintaining the well-being of the state’s children.” In 2014, the statewide median income for families with children rose to $89,000, about the same as it was before the Great Recession.
Similarly, the number of children living in poverty dropped across the state by about 17,000 to 316,000, or 16 percent of all children, but that is still 7 percent higher than in 2010, shortly after the official end of the recession. More than two in 10 children lived in poverty in seven counties: Cumberland, Passaic, Hudson, Atlantic, Salem, Essex, and Ocean. In Cumberland, the number was closer to 3 in 10.
“For the first time in more than five years, we saw a statewide decline in the number of children living in poverty,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which produces the annual state Kids Count report. “While this is encouraging, a closer look at the data will show deep pockets of poverty that still persist and disparities in a number of measures of child wellbeing including child health and safety throughout the state.”
The data show that 2 percent of children in New Jersey were in families receiving cash public assistance in 2015 in the form of TANF payments, also known as welfare, and 14 percent got food aid through SNAP, the federal food stamps program’ and 44 percent received a free- or reduced-cost breakfast at school.
The high cost of living remained a problem for families with children, as fully half spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing — a figure considered to be burdensome. And the typical family spent nearly a quarter of its income on licensed childcare for two children: an infant and a preschooler.
Comparing New Jersey to the nation, the economic wellbeing of families with children was the category in which the state ranked lowest — 20th. Overall, New Jersey was the seventh best state for child well-being, the national Kids Count report found.