KIDS COUNT

Children play Friday at Gateway Head Start Center at Atlantic Cape Community College. The annual Kids Count report ranked Atlantic County children at 20th of 21 counties, with only Cumberland County ranking lower.

Cumberland and Atlantic counties remain at the bottom of the state for child well-being according to the 2015 New Jersey Kids Count report released Monday, ranking 21st and 20th among the state’s 21 counties.

Atlantic County had a 60 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty between 2009 and 2013, among the largest increases in the state.

Almost 17,000 children were living below the poverty line in 2013. The county in 2013 had the lowest average median family income in the state at $48,103 and the second highest family unemployment rate at 11 percent.

Cape May County moved up in the rankings, from 15th to 14th. Ocean County dropped from 10th to 11th.

In a special section this year, the report also shows that Hispanic and black children statewide are more likely to live in poverty and struggle with its short- and long-term effects.

“These children are still much more likely to live in families earning too little to meet their basic needs,” said the report, issued by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of ACNJ, said the situation for minority children is a crisis and she hopes the report can help start a conversation about the effects of poverty on these children.

“When you see all the data together, it creates an urgency,” she said. “You can see the link between poverty and poor outcomes.”

Overall, the total population of children in N.J. dropped 2 percent between 2009 and 2013 to just over 2 million. But the percentage of children living below the poverty line increased 24 percent to 333,375 and now make up 17 percent of all children.

Zalkind said the issue is also important to the state as minority children now make up almost half of all children in New Jersey.

According to the report, more than 30 percent of all black children and almost 30 percent of Hispanic children lived in poor families in 2013, compared with just 6 percent of Asian children and 8 percent of white children.

Those children have lower test scores in school, lower graduation rates, and higher incarceration rates. More than 40 percent of children in foster care were black in 2014. And while 57 percent of youth arrested were white, black youth make up 65 percent of the youth in county detention in 2013.

Zalkind said the Juvenile Justice Alternative Initiative has had an impact and been a model project, more still needs to be done.

Locally the data also show that 56 percent of Atlantic County families are spending more than a third of their income on rent. Child care costs also eat up income, with families of two young children paying 38 percent of their income on child care, the highest percentage in the state.

The 2013 annual cost of child care for a preschooler in Atlantic County, $8,528, is lower than the state average of $9,546, but Atlantic County’s lower median income means families are spending a larger share.

Cumberland County has the lower annual cost of child care at $7,592 in 2013.

The Atlantic County Women’s Center serves as the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency for the county, assisting families with child care needs. Executive Director Claudia Ratzlaff said subsidies for child care have increased in the county to address the issue.

“Salaries are too low and there are not enough jobs,” she said. The center is losing the grant for next year, but Ratzlaff said they are working with the agency that got it to have the least impact possible on families and staff.

In Cumberland County 64 percent of families pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, the highest rate in the state. The county also had the highest teen birth rate, the highest infant mortality rate, and the largest number of child abuse/neglect investigations.

The one bright spot for Cumberland is that it ranks first in providing breakfast in school, with 53 percent of eligible children getting the morning meal.

Ocean County showed a slight decline in unemployment, but had an increase in child poverty and a decrease in median family income, resulting in more families spending a higher portion of income on child care. The county has among the lowest rate of teen births and juvenile arrests.

Cape May County’s numbers show the diversity of the population. The county’s median income, at $81,219, is ranked 12th and is just below the state average of $85,248. The percent of children in poverty has also dropped to just 10 percent, the seventh lowest in the state. But the county also has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent, and the highest rate of juvenile arrests at 36 per 1,000 children under 18.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

@ACPressDamico on Twitter

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