By Erin Delmore
“The fact that we have under 100,000 children in our state without health insurance is exciting,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Advocates for Children of New Jersey executive director.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey celebrated some successes gleaned from the 2016 Kids Count report — chief among them, the growing number of kids with health insurance. The share of kids without fell by 25 percent between 2010 and 2014.
“I do remember a time when we had half a million kids without health insurance. That’s been an effort on the part of state leaders, federal leaders, but also people in local communities who work with families,” Zalkind said.
The Kids Count report is the 25th annual look at well-being in the Garden State. It found the number of children in poverty decreased between 2014 and 2015 but is still up since 2010. Zalkind says there’s a much more accurate way to measure need.
“The fact that we have almost a third of children in New Jersey living in low-income families is as significant,” she said.
A reflection of rising costs in a state known for high prices.
“New Jersey is among the top three states in terms of cost of living expenses,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.
More than 80 percent of low-income households are spending more than the recommended 30 percent of income on housing costs.
“So they’ve got to pay the rent, so then what’s left over for food?” asked Diane Riley, director of advocacy for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
Riley says the Community FoodBank of New Jersey sees residents who never expected to be there — working parents trying to make ends meet.
“We have a branch in Cape May and Cumberland and Atlantic. Those are some of the worst counties in terms of children’s needs being met,” she said.
The Kids Count report shows need is greatest in Atlantic and Cumberland counties with a quarter or more kids in poverty and the median income under $56,000.
“The issue still remains that many of those families are earning $8.30, $8, $10 an hour, and there’s a big push both statewide and nationally to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That will really, really pull many of our children up out of poverty,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey tells us the work doesn’t stop after the Kids Count report. The group plans to focus on student absenteeism, student expulsion and the availability of school breakfast in the coming months.