What do we mean by poverty?
The experience of poverty in New Jersey encompasses a broad spectrum of individuals and families facing economic struggle. The spectrum includes people with very low incomes facing dire deprivation and daily sacrifices. It also includes many among the working poor, who are often ignored by official poverty statistics but who nevertheless experience real and harmful economic challenges.
New Jersey Poverty Trends
While New Jersey’s official poverty rate is lower than the national rate, this number obscures the true scope of economic struggle in New Jersey because of the state’s cost of living. As a result, in New Jersey we have to look beyond the federal poverty level (FPL) to understand who is really struggling. An income of 200% FPL (twice the federal poverty level, or $47,668 for a family of 4) comes closer to the actual income needed to meet basic needs. At this level, we see that 1 in 4 New Jersey residents are struggling, and this percentage of our population is rising.
*Source: The Real Cost of Living in New Jersey, Legal Services of New Jersey, May 2013.
While New Jersey is ranked number four in per capita income in the United States, in 2013 this measure rose at a rate below inflation and below the national average. Income growth across the state’s counties has also been uneven. The state’s high long-term unemployment rate, slow job growth, and unemployment rate mean that this is still a difficult time for many middle- and low-income families. APN is working to promotes policies that support broad access to opportunities for hard working New Jerseyans, as well as a strong safety net for those who are unable to work at any given time.
How can we respond?
Understood this way, poverty is a complex and systemic problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. At a minimum, our statewide effort to prevent, reduce, and end poverty must work on two fundamental levels:
- to increase the opportunities and reduce the daily challenges for people living in poverty, and
- to promote a more equitable and effective social system that builds the common good.