NJPP: N.J. economy improves, but not all residents prosper

There are approximately 830,000 New Jerseyans who live in poverty, according to new data released Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau. New Jersey Policy Perspective said even though the unemployment rate is declining, residents are being left out of the state’s economic recovery.

In 2018, the state’s poverty rate (less than $25,100 a year for a family of four) of 9.5% was higher than the pre-recession poverty rate of 8.7% in 2008. The child poverty rate hit 13.5% in 2018, down from 2017’s 13.8%, but still higher than 2008’s 12.1%.

“New Jersey’s economy continues to improve, but not all residents are benefitting from this progress,” Brandon McKoy, president, New Jersey Policy Perspective, said. “New Jersey remains a tale of two states, as household incomes steadily increase while poverty rates remain higher than pre-Recession levels. Far too many New Jersey families still struggle to pay for basic expenses like food and childcare; more can and must be done to ensure every single New Jerseyan has the opportunity to live a safe and healthy life.”

The data showed that even though the state is improving economically, New Jersey families are still dealing with high levels of poverty and widespread income inequality:

  • New Jersey’s poverty rate is 3.6 percentage points lower than the U.S. poverty rate (13.1 percent);
  • New Jersey has the 5th lowest poverty rate in the U.S.;
  • 22% of New Jerseyans, or 1.9 million, live in real poverty ($50,200 a year for a family of four), down from 22.9% in 2017;
  • The state poverty rate (9.5%) is at its lowest since 2009;
  • The state’s median household income of $81,740 is up from the 2017’s $80,088, but is similar to both 2017 and 2008, meaning that since the Great Recession there has been little movement in middle class living standards for New Jerseyans;
  • 4.2% of New Jerseyans live in extreme poverty (about $12,550 a year for a family of four).

Poverty also hits some groups harder:

  • New Jerseyans of color are more likely to struggle economically than white New Jerseyans due to housing segregation and broader discrimination;
  • 16.2% of black New Jerseyans live below the poverty line ($25,100 for a family of four) compared with 5.5% of white residents.
  • 17.1% of Latinx and 7.2% of Asian Americans live in poverty;
  • Women face higher poverty rates than men: 5% to 8.4%, respectively.

“Lawmakers must prioritize policies that benefit low-income workers, communities of color, and impoverished New Jerseyans who face barriers to success,” McKoy said. “Until we can ensure all New Jerseyans are able to safely and reliably make ends meet, our economy will continue to have trouble growing in a healthy manner.”