A 22 percent drop in Cumberland County's child poverty rate helped it move from last in the state for child well-being to 20th in the New Jersey Kids Count 2013 rankings.
Cumberland was the only one of New Jersey's 21 counties to see a decline in child poverty from 2007 to 2011, according to the report, put out annually by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey. Even with the decline, however, it still has the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the state at 26 percent, down from 34 percent in 2007.
Cumberland was also one of just two counties to see an increase in the number of licensed child-care centers. All other counties had fewer child-care centers available to working parents.
And Cumberland County saw a marked decrease in the use of juvenile detention facilities, according to the report, which measures child well-being by looking at socioeconomic data such as poverty rates, child and maternal health and education trends, unemployment rates, rents, teen birth rate, and more.
"You're going to see fluctuations year to year. We can't rest on our laurels or get discouraged. All you can do is keep doing the best you can," said Cumberland County Health Officer George Sartorio.
Atlantic County moved up from 20th to 19th in 2013; while Cape May County moved down to 18th from 17th. Ocean County remained at 13th.
Child poverty remained the same in Atlantic County, while every other county saw increases, said Advocates for Children Executive Director Cecelia Zalkind.
In Atlantic County there was improvement on how many families spend more than 30 percent of income on rent and in access to free school breakfasts, she said.
But Atlantic County lost ground with a rise in infant mortality, Zalkind said. In 2005 the rate of infant mortality was 6.6 babies dying for every 1,000 live births; in 2009 the rate had increased to 8.6 per 1,000.
"Atlantic County had one of the largest increases in the state," Zalkind said. Cape May also had an increase in infant mortality, from 4.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005, to 7.2 per 1,000 in 2009, she said.
During the same period, there was a slight decline in infant mortality statewide, from 5.52 per 1,000 to 5.1 per 1,000, Zalkind said.
Cape May County Director of Human Services Patricia Devaney said the county's population base of 96,000 is so low that even small numbers of deaths can greatly increase its rate of infant mortality.
Overall she said the report shows how continuing economic hardships hurt families.
"What jumps out is the impact of the economic downturn, which is probably much more relevant here because of seasonal unemployment," she said. "(We have) seasonal poverty and lack of year-round jobs in the county."
The unemployment rate rose in every county in the state from 2008 to 2012, according to the report, and Atlantic County had the highest jump at 59 percent, going from 9.4 percent to 14.9 percent. Cape May's unemployment rate increased from 12.4 percent to 17.3 percent, a 40 percent increase; and Cumberland County's increased from 10.2 percent to 14.5 percent, a 42 percent increase.
Atlantic County also had the biggest decrease in median income of families with children, falling 17 percent from about $66,000 to $55,000. Median income for families with children increased in Cumberland County by 21 percent, from about $42,000 to $50,000; and by 23 percent in Cape May County, from about $59,000 to $73,000.
Cape May was among five counties posting drops in the percentage of eligible children receiving free- or reduced-price school breakfasts. Cape May's decline was 23 percent. It also was among four counties that saw increases in the number of uninsured children.
Atlantic County saw a decline of 2 percent in uninsured children. But Atlantic County was also one of just four counties to see an increase in child placements in the foster care system from 2007 to 2011, going up by a dramatic 43 percent.
This year, six counties improved in the Kids Count rankings, seven dropped and eight remained the same, the report said. The top five ranked counties, from first to fifth, were all in North Jersey: Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Bergen and Middlesex. Salem ended up at the bottom in 21st place this year.
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To view more Kids Count data, visit www.acnj.org and click the Kids Count button on the top of the home page.