Tuesday, September 23, 2014

NJPP: What Recovery? Poverty in NJ Continues to Rise

As the rest of the country marches out of the Great Recession, New Jersey is almost alone in watching its condition worsen. While some gains have been made over the past several years, the "Jersey Comeback" announced years ago has stalled out, stunting the opportunities for the vast majority of working New Jerseyans.

That's the key finding in NJPP's new Issue Brief on the 2013 American Community Survey data released last week by the US Census Bureau.

The data clearly show that New Jersey still suffers from rising levels of deep poverty, increasing income inequality and a struggling economy even as these metrics are improving for most of the nation.

New Jersey saw the largest increase in poverty and child poverty in the nation in 2013, with the number of New Jerseyans living in poverty increasing by 63,606 and the number of New Jersey children living in poverty increasing by 21,707.

The Garden State was also one of only three states (along with New Mexico and Washington) to experience a rise in both the total number of residents in poverty and the poverty rate. Meanwhile, median household income is down, the middle class continues to shrink and income inequality continues to rise.

So what should New Jersey policymakers do?

To begin to turn the tide, New Jersey needs to start experiencing a robust and broadly shared economic recovery. The way to build a strong recovery is not simple, but it is clear that the strategies employed by New Jersey policymakers in the post-recession era - cutting taxes for businesses and the state's wealthiest residents while attempting to grow jobs with $4.6 billion in tax-incentive awards - are not working.

But lawmakers would also be well-advised to follow the creed of "first, do no harm" and do what they can to ensure the situation does not continue to worsen even more for those at the bottom. That includes policy solutions like restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit to its pre-2010 level, extending earned sick leave to all New Jersey workers and reversing the decision to end the "Heat and Eat" program, which has resulted in the loss of nutritional benefits to thousands of struggling New Jerseyans.

For a full list of recommendations, and to read the full Issue Brief, click here.

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