Hunterdon County ranked number one out of all New Jersey counties in the overall well-being of its children, while Cumberland County ranked last, according to the New Jersey Kids Count annual rankings and county profiles released today.
Kids Count compares New Jersey’s 21 counties on 13 measures of child well-being, including child poverty, health, safety and education. Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Bergen and Middlesex were the top five ranking counties, while Cumberland, Atlantic, Salem, Camden and Essex were the five lowest.
The reasons counties move up or down the Kids Count rankings vary from county to county. Changes in a particular indicator, such as child poverty, in certain counties can affect the rankings of all counties.
“While the rankings shift every year, we see certain trends across many counties, including increasing child poverty, fewer child care options for working parents and high housing costs,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which publishes the Kids Count reports. “These statistics should be used to inform local, county and state leaders, as well as community organizations, in their efforts to improve the well-being of all New Jersey children.”
Although this year’s data once again reveal different conditions for children living in each county, rising child poverty persisted in all but three counties — Morris, Salem and Warren — from 2008 to 2012, according to the New Jersey Kids Count 2014: The State of Our Counties, a pocket guide with trend data, which ACNJ also released today. Warren and Salem saw substantial declines at 46 and 22 percent, respectively. Morris had a modest 1 percent decrease. Passaic saw no change.
In the other counties, increases in the number of children living in families earning too little to meet their children’s needs ranged from a low of 8 percent in Monmouth County to a high of 246 percent in Somerset County. Sussex and Bergen also saw steep spikes in child poverty. Statewide, the number of children in poverty jumped 22 percent during this time.
Better news may be on the horizon, however. All but one county — Cape May — experienced declines in unemployment, with many seeing substantial drops ranging from 20 to 30 percent from 2009 to 2013. It is not clear, yet, whether this will affect the child poverty rate. The latest data for child poverty is one year behind unemployment figures. Some labor experts say the decline in unemployment is due, at least in part, to people leaving the labor force all together.
“As children and families continue to struggle, it is more important than ever to make sound decisions to improve children’s lives and invest in the future of our state,” Zalkind said. “The Kids Count data should be used to inform our response to children’s needs and guide investments of our limited state resources.”
Other key trends
New Jersey schools are making progress in feeding more low-income students school breakfast, with a 54 percent jump statewide. Every single county achieved increases in the number of students receiving a nutritious morning meal that can help them concentrate and learn.
At 160 percent, Hunterdon saw the highest increase in the percent of low-income students eating breakfast, but the county’s schools fed just 14 percent of these children in April 2013. Cape May had the smallest increase at 2 percent. Cumberland fed the highest percent of eligible students at 56 percent.
New Jersey continues to make substantial progress in reducing the number of uninsured children. From 2009 to 2012, all but three counties had fewer uninsured children, with decreases ranging from 5 percent in Hudson to 66 percent in Hunterdon. Sussex, Morris and Middlesex saw alarming increases at 45, 42 and 29 percent, respectively. Statewide, the number of uninsured children dropped 48 percent from 2008 to 2012 when 113,000 children lacked healthy coverage.
New Jersey’s working parents have fewer child care options. The number of licensed child care centers declined or stayed the same in all but three counties. Cumberland, Hudson and Passaic all experienced only modest increases of 1 to 2 percent. Mercer and Monmouth saw no change. Declines in the rest of the counties ranged from 2 percent in Middlesex to 22 percent in Cape May. Statewide, there were 6 percent fewer child care centers and 29 percent fewer people registered with the state to care for children in their homes.
Child care costs also continue to consume a large portion of family budgets. The average New Jersey family with an infant and toddler in center-based care paid 24 percent of income on care. Essex and Passaic parents paid the most at 33 percent of family income. Warren parents spent the smallest portion of income on child care at 18 percent. National standards say families should spend no more than 10 percent of income on care.
In addition to releasing the county rankings and pocket guide, Advocates for Children of New Jersey also released New Jersey Kids Count 2013: The State of Our Children, which provides state-level data in all areas of child well-being.
To help counties use the data to address the needs of children, Advocates for Children is hosting Kids Count Regional Forums across the state, bringing together county, city and state leaders with the people in the community who work with children and families.
“These forums are designed to foster discussions about the data that result in concrete action at the state, county and local levels,” Zalkind said. “When we use data to drive critical decisions about responding to the needs of children, everyone benefits — children, families, our communities and our state.”
To read the reports, visit www.acnj.org.
Kids Count is a national and state‐by‐state statistical effort to track the state of children in the United States, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide child research and action organization and the New Jersey Kids Count grantee.