New Jerseyans fared better financially in 2017 than in the previous year, as incomes rose, the number of people living in poverty declined slightly and health insurance rates were essentially stable, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau released today.
However, this first release of data from the 2017 American Community Survey shows that women continue to earn less than men and that as many as 1.3 million New Jerseyans are considered poor, given the state’s high cost of living. Officially, the ACS estimates that 10 percent of the state’s population was living in poverty last year, meaning they earned $24,858 for a family of four.
“Certainly any decline in the federal poverty rate is a positive development, but it cannot obscure the fact that poverty in our state last year still remains significantly higher than at the beginning of the recession 10 years ago, when it stood at 8.5 percent,” said Melville D. Miller Jr., president of Legal Services of New Jersey. “That’s deeply disturbing: data that heralds terrible daily human suffering in our state, with very little improvement.”
The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which was released separately, puts the percentage of Jerseyans living in poverty at a higher 15.1 percent of the population. That calculation, averaged over the years 2015 through 2017, also accounts for safety-net benefits a low-income family receives, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps, and for the cost of housing. Because New Jersey is a high-cost state, its supplemental poverty measure tends to be higher than the official measure.
New Jersey’s official poverty rate was lower than that of the nation as a whole, with 13.4 percent of all Americans considered poor in 2017. However, using the three-year averaged supplemental measure, New Jersey’s poverty rate was worse, 1 percent higher than the national rate.
Not the whole story
Miller said even the SPM does not tell the whole story. To fully account for the high cost of living, it is more accurate to look at the number of people at 250 percent of the federal poverty level, which would equal about $61,500 for a family of four.
“In short, there are really more than 2.6 million New Jerseyans who daily face deprivation in at least one of the areas essential to a decent life,” Miller said. “That’s nearly a third of our residents, including more than a half million children, living day by day without sufficient food, health coverage, decent housing, adequate transportation and other basics so many of us take for granted.”
Such bleak statistics are a major reason why so many advocacy groups are pushing New Jersey to raise the minimum wage, currently $8.60, to $15 an hour. Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on the promise of hiking the base salary. While the controlling Democrats in the Legislature have passed legislation to raise the wage to $15 in past years, they have yet to agree on a plan now that there is a governor willing to sign such a bill. That could change soon, as Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) appeared at a press conference last week to announce that enacting a higher wage will be a top priority this fall.
The census data release held better news for the typical New Jerseyan.
Median household income in the state rose by a statistically significant 3.4 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $80,088. It’s the fourth increase in a row in inflation-adjusted income and is 9 percent higher than in 2013. Nationally, median income rose by 2.6 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $60,336, according to comparable ACS data. Census officials said the country’s median income last year was at its highest level since 2005, when the ACS was fully implemented.
Full-time female workers in New Jersey saw their earnings rise by a statistically significant 1.2 percent from 2016 to 2017 to a median of $51,538. Income for men also rose, though not by an amount considered significant, to $64,497. The gap means women earned just 80 cents for every $1 men received. Murphy took a big step toward trying to close that gap earlier this year when he signed an equal-pay law that makes it illegal for employers to pay one person more than another if both have similar duties, experience and education.
Income inequality remains unchanged
Households at the lowest and highest income levels saw similar gains in 2017 over the prior year. About 15.7 percent of New Jersey households had less than $25,000 in income, a drop of nearly 1 percentage point from 2016, while the number of households with at least $100,000 in income rose by 1 point. Last year, more than four in 10 households had at least $100,000 in income, with 13 percent reporting income of more than $200,000.
Income inequality, as measured by the Gini Index, remained virtually unchanged at both the state and national levels. New Jersey fares slightly better, or less unequal, than the nation as a whole.
Meanwhile, health insurance coverage rates remained essentially flat from 2016 to 2017. The ACS showed 92.3 percent of New Jerseyans were covered by either private or public insurance last year. That’s about 1 percentage point better than the national coverage rate. Advocates have worried that several actions taken by the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act would lead to fewer people able to get insurance. Because this data is a year old, it is not likely to reflect any such coverage losses, should they occur.
Murphy signed two laws designed to prevent such reductions in New Jersey and announced last week that the cost for New Jerseyans to buy health insurance on the individual market will drop by more than 9 percent next year.
In total, the census bureau released data on more than 40 topics today. All the data from the ACS are available from the bureau’s American FactFinder website.
|Median household income||% Change from 2016 (inflation-adjusted)||% Change from 2013 (adjusted)||% People in poverty (official measure)||% People with health insurance|
|Cape May County||$66,953||5.4||4.4||9.7||95.3|
|Franklin Twp (Somerset)||$90,896||-5.8||4.9||6.8||95.1|