By Briana Vannozzi
Temp worker Clare Echols sums up what a lot of people in New Jersey are thinking about the middle class, “There’s no such thing anymore, you’re either rich or you’re poor,” and she may be right. More New Jerseyans are in poverty now than in the last 50 years, according to new analysis from Legal Services of New Jersey.
“And that means tremendous depravation and tremendous pain for a lot of people,” said Melville Miller, President, Legal Services of New Jersey.
The report, by the Edison-based non-profit is the ninth in a series of annual poverty studies. By their definition, 2.8 million adults and 800,000 children lived in poverty in 2014, about a third of all New Jersey households. That’s more than double the number released by the U.S. Census Bureau recently, which put it at a million residents.
Miller continued, “we used as best measurement of actual poverty 250% of the actual poverty line, the federal standard itself is woefully inadequate and makes no distinction across states.”
Miller explains this report used figures based on the real cost of living in the state, one of the wealthiest and most expensive in the nation. He says federal guidelines use an outdated formula from the 60’s which puts the poverty level for a family of four around $24,000 a year, but in New Jersey its more like 64,000 to 73,000 a year for a family, depending on where you live.
“There are several parts of New Jersey, several counties, several family types where 300% of the federal poverty level is just barely adequate,” said Miller.
“There’s no money for savings, there’s no money for even 1 night of pizza a month. There’s no money for anything extra. This is just the basics you need to have food on the table, keep your house heated and be able to get to work,” said Serena Rice, Executive Director, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.
The analysis shows more families have remained in poverty since the recession in 2008. The largest percentage for these pockets is in rural Cumberland and Salem counties, but for absolute numbers “it’s the familiar urban centers, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Trenton and Camden for sure,” Miller continued.
Of particular importance in this report is the emphasis on the number of children swept up in current poverty levels. The report finds that its much more likely for poverty to be passed from one generation to the next and says that will have long-term consequences, especially in hindering our state’s recovery.
Rice continued, “We really know if we are not able to move children to places of opportunity and give them access to a different life, unfortunately they’re going to be growing into the next generation of poverty and we’re going to just see this pattern repeating again and again.”
Recommendations like improving temporary assistance and cash welfare programs are at the top of the list. The report also calls for long term employment strategies. It calls for policy makers to take immediate action, noting that without it, more and more of those living in poverty will be hiding in plain sight.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.