New Census Poverty Data Tells a Tale of Two New Jerseys

NJ’s Improving Economy Leaves Many of Our Poorest Neighbors Behind, Homeless and at Risk of Homelessness

In a recent blog post, New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) reports on the new U.S. Census Bureau poverty data that tells the story of poverty in New Jersey.

NJPP points out that the Census data shows a tale of two states, as many New Jerseyans are continuing to see their incomes rise while poverty remains above pre-Recession levels.

In 2018, 832,133 New Jerseyans lived in poverty struggling to pay for life’s basic expenses. Without enough household income, the poorest residents of the Garden State are unable to pay for things that many of us take for granted: housing, healthcare, transportation to work, childcare and post-secondary education opportunities.

This new Census data reminds us of the wide income gap in New Jersey.

Brandon McKoy, NJPP’s President writes:

“While the state’s unemployment rate continues to decline, far too many New Jerseyans are being left out of the state’s economic recovery. The 2018 poverty rate (less than $25,100 a year for a family of four) of 9.5 percent is still higher than New Jersey’s pre-recession poverty rate of 8.7 percent in 2008.”

Too many poor New Jersey households are not recovering from the last recession at the same rate as wealthier New Jerseyans.

Because of New Jersey’s higher cost of living, measuring poverty using the 200% Federal Poverty Level statistic ($50,200 a year for a family of four) is more appropriate, and shows that 22 percent of New Jerseyans live in real poverty, a total of 1.9 million. This rate is down from 22.9 percent in 2017.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)’s Out of Reach 2019 data tells us that a family of four would need an annual income of $60,030 to afford a two-bedroom apartment. This income amount is based on the fact that in order to afford an apartment, a household should pay no more than 30% of its income towards rent.

Many of the poor families who make up of 22 percent of New Jerseyans living in real poverty very likely cannot afford market rate apartments. And if they are living in their own apartments, they may pay a much higher portion of their household income, higher than 30%) towards their monthly rent. Paying such high percentages for household income towards rent can leave households one emergency away from eviction and homelessness.

4.2 percent of New Jerseyans live in extreme poverty, which means they live below less than half of the poverty line — or about $12,550 a year for a family of four. These families of four could very well be among the total of 6,748 households, including 8,864 persons, found to be experiencing homelessness in New Jersey through NJCounts 2019. NJCounts 2019 is the statewide Point-in-Time Count of the homeless on January 22, 2019.

The NLIHC The Gap report found that in New Jersey, there are only 33 affordable and available rental homes per 100 extremely low income renter households. And that 72% of low income renter households have a severe cost burden. Families of four living in extreme poverty would come nowhere near being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. These families need rental assistance, through a voucher program to afford their own home. But there are simply not enough housing vouchers to help every households in need.

The data also show that poverty continues to hit some groups harder and points to racial disparity in New Jersey’s poorest households:

New Jerseyans of color face significant barriers in our state due to housing segregation and broader discrimination. The result is that they are more likely to struggle economically than white New Jerseyans.

16.2 percent of Black New Jerseyans live below the official poverty line ($25,100 for a family of 4) compared with 5.5 percent of whites.

NJCounts 2019 found that there is a strong correlation between poverty and homelessness, however, the racial disparities evident in the population indicate that poverty alone does not determine who will experience homelessness. Given the disparities present in the data, it is evident that systemic racism plays a significant role in factors contributing to homelessness.

The data indicates that persons identifying as Black or African American are overrepresented in the population experiencing homelessness and living below the poverty level. While 13% of the general population, persons identifying as Black or African American are 24% of the population in poverty and 49.4% of the population experiencing homelessness.

17.1 percent of Latinx and 7.2 percent of Asian Americans live in poverty. This means far too many New Jerseyans of color aren’t sharing in the state’s economic gains or are able to fully contribute to the economy and health of their communities.