New Jersey made progress in several areas of child well-being but is losing ground in others, according to the annual report put forth by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) – the New Jersey Kids Count 2016 Report. ACNJ also released county rankings.
Fewer children lack health insurance and fewer teens are giving birth. More children are receiving school breakfast and more families are benefitting from the Earned Income Tax Credit. After climbing steadily for many years, child poverty declined in 2014, but rates still remain higher than in 2010.
The number of uninsured children decreased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2014. This held true across different racial groups and amongst low-income children. As of 2014, only 2 percent of low-income children lived without health insurance. The number of low-birthweight babies declined by 11 percent, and a greater number of mothers received early prenatal care across all racial subgroups. Infant mortality also dropped by a promising 17 percent. But the infant mortality rate for black babies was three times higher than for white babies. Black children are also more likely to be low-birthweight.
In contrast with previous years, teens and young adults showed a number of promising results. In 2014, the percentage of 18-24 year olds living in poverty decreased by 6 percent from 2010. Additionally, fewer young adults and teens were idle (not working or attending school), dropping by 10 percent for 18-24 year olds and 25 percent for 16-19 year olds from 2010-2014.
There were also several positive trends in juvenile justice. In 2013, the number of arrests decreased by nearly 50 percent from 2009 figures. Similarly, commitments to juvenile detention facilities continued to dwindle, dropping by more than 40 percent from 2010 to 2014. Fewer youth of color resided in New Jersey’s detention facilities in 2014 than did in 2010; however, black males continued to be over-represented in the juvenile justice system.
The most recent data indicates that in 2015, the percentage of children tested with elevated blood lead levels of 5 µg/dL or higher decreased. But fewer children are being tested, especially during the critical ages of 6 – 26 months.
Almost one-third of all New Jersey children live in low-income families. For black and Hispanic children, the rate is even higher at 51 and 57 percent, respectively. And 81 percent of low-income households exceed the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
Though fewer children were the subject of child abuse/neglect investigations, a greater number of children were found to be victims of substantiated abuse or neglect. Children under state supervision increased slightly from 2011-2015, with the majority of children in foster care being black or African-American.
New Jersey also made some progress in reducing the number of children who re-enter foster care, decreasing by 14 percent from 2009 to 2013. Yet, the number of children who suffered from abuse or neglect after being reunified with their families increased by 31 percent during the same period.
In addition to the statewide report, Kids Count compares New Jersey’s 21 counties on 13 measures of child well-being, including child poverty, health, safety and education. For the second consecutive year, Morris and Hunterdon Counties came in first and second place in the overall well-being of its children, both with a child poverty rate of 5 percent and a household median income of more than $136,000. Atlantic and Cumberland Counties ranked last with 25 and 29 percent of its children in poverty, respectively, and a median income of less than $55,400.