HEALTH

Trenton forum paints picture of modern-day poverty

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

At an NJTV In Your Neighborhood Community Forum on Thursday, statistics painted the picture of modern-day poverty.

“Here in Trenton, the poverty rate is 28 percent under the federal poverty guidelines, which is about double the national average of 15 percent,” said Demelza Baer of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

“Thirty-three point six percent of the households in this city live 200 percent below poverty,” said Trenton YMCA’s CEO and Mercer County Freeholder Samuel Frisby.

“We have 17.4 percent African-Americans in poverty, 18.6 percent Latino, 19.1 percent Native American and 8.5 percent whites in poverty in this state,” according to Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

“Statistically, 62 percent of Americans will be poor at some point during their lifetime,” said Baer.

“The people who come through the door, most of them have no work history, that’s number one. They didn’t come in choosing to be poor,” said Executive Director of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness Frank Cirillo.

In listing the causes of modern day poverty, panelists discussed what perpetuates it and what can be done to reverse it in New Jersey, a high-income state where one in four residents lives in poverty. The state ranks seventh worst for income inequality in the nation.

“We found that only 18 percent of the people who work in the city of Newark live in the city of Newark. I’m going to tell you something shocking, the identical statistic applied to the city of Trenton. It is literally also 18 percent,” said Baer.

“When Demelza talks about the need to raise the minimum wage in New Jersey, if you’re making minimum wage at $8.44 an hour right now, your annual income in you’re working full time, year round, which is a big if unfortunately too, is less than the federal poverty level,” said Koubiadis.

It wasn’t just the panelists offering solutions about escaping poverty, it was also people in the audience.

“It’s important that they get their children enrolled in early childhood education,” said Trenton School Board President Gene Bouie. “It changed the game.”

“We talk about how education is the great equalizer, and we believe that it is. When you look at New Jersey, New Jersey is has the second-most segregated school district in the country,” said Frisby. “The issue is when you have such abject poverty, it impacts your businesses … you have two true supermarkets in the city of Trenton, Trenton proper, 7.25 square miles, 84,000 people, and we only have two real supermarkets”

Trenton resident Maurice Griffin is a former inmate and now a gainfully employed husband and father. He suggested advocates focus on the poor having an inner impoverishment.

“If we can incorporate that in our goal, I think that we will be very successful in what we’re trying to do,” said Griffin.

It was an audience full of suggestions — urging more solution-oriented forums like this.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform 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.