Poverty Study is an Alarm Bell for N.J.

2.8 Million New Jerseyans Including
800,000 Children Are Poor

Poverty ReportRecognizing the reality that the poverty now enveloping some 2.8 million New Jerseyans, including about 800,000 children, is so deep-seated and unlikely to dissipate anytime soon is one of the overarching conclusions in the study by Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ).

The Star-Ledger published an editorial supporting the need for action.

“The urgency to act is great, because the study confirms that despite significant job and economic recovery since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, poverty in the Garden State has stubbornly remained at record levels not seen in 50 years.”

Said LSNJ President Melville D. Miller Jr.

A November 18, 2015 Star-Ledger editorial reiterated that it is time to act. The editorial reminds us that in New Jersey and across the United States

“… Poverty exists largely in the shadows, where there is an overlooked underclass, so the Legal Service study does something very important: It reminds government what inequality looks like, in real places and real dollars.”

The federal poverty level for a family of four in the 48 continental states is $24,250 which makes New Jersey’s “official” poverty rate 11%. But “Legal Services uses a more realistic benchmark of $60,625 for a family of four, because even at that income, most families would still encounter ‘true’ poverty — an inability to afford basic needs such as food, housing, education, safety, transportation, child care, or health care.” This puts the “actual” poverty rate in New Jersey at 30%. The report writes that “2.8 million of our neighbors — including 800,000 children — can be classified as poor.”

“Harvard research has made it clear that geography is the most important factor in determining whether a child will transition from poverty to middle class.”

And for the 800,000 poor children in New Jersey, their education, graduation rates, and opportunities for jobs with wages that will pull them out of poverty are at risk.

Governor Christie has not been a friend to the state’s poor. He has cut SNAP benefits, vetoed the minimum wage, and tried to take money away from critical affordable housing programs to fix his budget. The editorial board comments that New Jersey’s next governor will need to “Do something, because this is not merely a cyclical lag one can blame on the Great Recession.

As Legal Services President Melville Miller concluded,

‘Poverty has stubbornly remained at record levels not seen in 50 years. If this trend is to end, this must be a core issue for 2017.”

Meanwhile, Beth Connelly writes in a November 19, 2015 op-ed to the Star-Ledger “Under Christie, N.J.’s safety net has expanded.” Connelly disputes the findings of the Legal Services report stating that it

“Wrongly suggests that the state’s safety net is increasingly scarce for low-income residents and it perpetuates misinformation contained in the report itself.”

Click here for the Star-Ledger editorial.

Click here for a Star-Ledger op-ed from Elizabeth Connolly, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services

Click here for the the full report from Legal Services of NJ.

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