By Lauren Wanko
Twenty-year-old Shaquana Thompson knows what’s it’s like to be homeless.
“My job wasn’t giving me any hours and that’s what I needed to find a place,” she said.
Abandoned by her mom as a baby, her grandparents kicked her out after failing the high school proficiency test.
“It’s difficult being young still and trying to save the money you need to save,” Thompson said.
The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey insists it’s not only difficult for New Jerseyans to save.
“There’s a real need to draw attention to the reality that even in a high income state like New Jersey, there are so many people who are really struggling to make ends meet every day,” said Serena Rice of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.
Nearly 16 percent of the United States population has income below the poverty level. In New Jersey, the poverty rate continues to increase from nearly 9 percent in 2007 to 11.4 percent last year.
New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Raymond Castro says those figures give the wrong impression that New Jersey’s poverty rate isn’t that bad when you compare it to the national average.
“We rank 37th lowest poverty. When you take into account cost of living, housing is huge in our state and so that takes up a lot of our income. So actually people in New Jersey are more worse off then any other state,” Castro said.
Rice also blames the economy. She says New Jersey’s recovery has lagged behind other states.
“Particularly in terms of jobs, our job growth has been primarily in low wage jobs,” she said.
“I introduced a whole jobs package. We need to make sure manufacturing is again done in New Jersey. Those are extraordinary jobs. We need to make sure college is more affordable,” said Sen. Tom Kean.
“It starts with empowerment and what this great group is going to do, and the progress, it’s a thread between legislation on the ground as far as providing the right resources and services,” said Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia.
Georgian Court’s Rumu Dasgupta says breaking the cycle of poverty starts with people first changing their attitudes.
“Primarily because the way people look at the poor, they feel that the poor are undeserving,” Dasgupta said.
Today the Anti-Poverty Network discussed solutions to what some advocates are calling the war against poverty. The non-profit is targeting three areas — hunger, housing and economic empowerment.
“Today we are standing behind the school breakfast program and encouraging school districts to make sure every child eligible for free breakfast are able to secure it in the classroom,” Rice said.
Rice insists workplace policies should also be reflective of the high cost of living like the minimum wage and she says there’s not enough low-income housing in the state, which is why they’re supporting the United for Homes Campaign.
“This would allow us to gather adequate resources to actually be the building of supply for affordable housing,” Rice said.
As for Thompson, she’s now working full-time and can afford her own apartment.