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Poverty Rate in New Jersey Continues to Grow

9-17-12

HomeFront is a Mercer County charity where people from the Trenton area can come for food, clothing, furniture and cash.

“I get Social Security [SSI], and my rent is $550 check and my SSI is only $705, so basically it’s not really affordable,” said Dominique Hawkins, a young mother who is two months behind in her rent and facing eviction.

Shaquasia Bennett works the overnight shift at Trane Air conditioning while raising a two-year old alone and takes home $320 a week. “Being that I do make over minimum wage I really can’t get assistance from welfare so that money is going to food, clothes, everything, the rent,” said Bennett. “So I had to train myself not to even touch my checks at times.”

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Connie Mercer founded HomeFront 21 years ago. “Each and every day at Homefront, we see desperate families, desperate parents who are trying to make sure their children are safe and that they’re fed,” she said.

Mercer says client visits were up 19 percent last year, and that mirrors the state as a whole.

The Census Bureau said last week nearly a million New Jerseyans — 11.4 percent — of state residents lived below the poverty level last year.

That’s up from 10.7 percent in 2010 and 8.8 percent in 2006.

There are more people in poverty coming out of the recession than at the height of it.

In the third wealthiest state in the country, waiting rooms are full of hard luck stories of those who can and cannot work.

The Census Bureau sets the poverty level at $22,811 for a family of four.

Legal Services of New Jersey says that number in our state should be $44,000. United Way of Northern New Jersey puts it at $58, 500.

Another anti-poverty advocate NJ Today spoke to today — Dee Miller of Legal Services — said the middle class is disappearing in this state, and the question is whether that’s indicative of a long-term shift in the economy. “So many of the jobs that used to keep our folks out of abject poverty are gone, and I don’t see them coming back,” she said.

More census numbers on poverty in America are due out next week.

Reporting from Lawrenceville, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron has the full story.