By Lauren Wanko
When it comes to how kids are faring in the Garden State, overall New Jersey ranks in the top 10 nationwide according to Kids Count Data Book — an annual report which accesses child well-being nationally.
“It tells some good news and bad,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
New Jersey ranked eighth overall in child well-being, but that’s down from five last year.
“I think we’re slipping a bit, one because of high rates of child poverty and two because other states are moving ahead of us,” Zalkind said.
The data comes from the Federal Statistical Agencies, like the Census Bureau. The report also ranks states in four categories — economic well-being, family and community, health and education. New Jersey’s highest ranking — two — the number of children not attending pre-school decreased to 38 percent.
“I think because New Jersey has a state funded pre-school program we are able to serve a lot of 3- and 4-year-olds in high qualified pre-schools, also a reason why test scores have improved,” said Zalkind.
New Jersey placed 16th in economic well-being with 45 percent of children living in households with a high housing cost burden. That number’s increased since 2005.
“The recommended a family not spend more then 30 percent of their income in rent. We look at Newark as an example where parents are spending almost double that on rent. And that’s really not good for kids or a family,” Zalkind said.
Zalkind says the numbers raise issues about affordable housing for low and moderate income families.
“We’re also looking at issues like the earned income tax credit, which benefits low income families. We have a state earned low income tax credit. When Gov. Christie came into office he cut it, so fewer families are eligible,” she said.
In regards to family and community, New Jersey ranked 10th with 30 percent of children in single-parent families — another increase from 2005. Zalkind calls the state’s health rank — 19 — disappointing. Still the report indicates areas of improvement like the number of children without health insurance — 5 percent. That’s down from 2008. But Zalkind insists there’s much to improve on.
“We continue to have problems about low birth rate babies and children being born to single parents. I think those are issues,” she said.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey say they plan to continue to work with legislators to expand pre-school for the state’s children and maintain enrollment in New Jersey’s child health insurance program.