By Briana Vannozzi
Albert Kelly — mayor of Bridgeton — sees it everyday.
“They’re looking for jobs, for decent paying jobs,” he said.
His non-profit Social Service Organization serves about 56,000 low-income residents in South Jersey. Residents desperately trying to pull out of, or stay out of poverty.
“You have families, two family households, some of them have two jobs each. So that they can maintain their rent, their utilities, being able to pay for food,” said Gateway Community Action Partnership Social Services Director Gwen McLean.
Cumberland County has the highest poverty rate in New Jersey — nearly 20 percent. It hovers just above Passaic and Hudson Counties at 18.5 and nearly 18 percent respectively. That’s according to New Census data. And while some analysts are quick to point out those numbers have improved. They’re still far above what they were 10 years ago — pre-recession.
In Cumberland County, and other rural parts of the state where poverty is highest, poor public transit options make it difficult to attract those new employers and for folks here to keep those jobs.
“The largest employer in Cumberland County I believe is the hospital system. School districts are probably right behind that. So when you’re looking to find a job that does not require a bachelors degree or masters degree there’s not a lot there in Cumberland county for families to apply for,” said Head Start Services Vice President Bonnie Eggenberg.
That’s indicative of a larger statewide problem, says the executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, Serena Rice.
“Unemployment is dropping and median income in the state is dropping. Poverty is not dropping and that means that the lowest wage workers are not seeing the benefit of this supposed economic recover,” she said.
Census data shows poverty levels did drop slightly between 2013 and 2014, moving from 11.4 to 11.1. There’s still roughly a million residents living below the line.
“When we invest in programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, like housing assistance. Even though those programs are primarily benefiting those at the economic spectrum, they’re really benefiting our whole society in bringing us all up,” Rice said.
Most alarming say analysis with New Jersey Policy Perspective, more seniors, ages 65 and older are aging into poverty.
“What the data really shows is that this is a state that’s kind of stuck and until our leaders start thinking about issues and ideas other than tax cuts and tax breaks for corporations, we’re really going to continue to be stuck,” said NJ Policy Perspective Policy Analyst Brandon McKoy.
And they’re seeing more people with higher levels of education, working lower paying jobs than ever before.
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.