Atlantic and Cumberland counties remain the two worst counties in the state for children, according to the 2016 New Jersey Kids Count report.
But this year, Cape May County joins them at the bottom, dropping from 14th to 19th in the rankings of the state’s 21 counties. The county dropped in almost every category, including the percentage of children in poverty, median income, the percentage of women getting prenatal care and infant mortality rate.
Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which issues the report, said the rankings reflect changes statewide, and a drop by Cape May County may also indicate improvements in other counties.
She said a county with a small population like Cape May is also more likely to see fluctuations.
“The rankings are not just how they are doing, but how they are doing in comparison to others,” she said.
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She said the report also highlights that poverty is not just in cities: “We tend to forget that.”
She said factors fluctuate year to year, but economic factors have the biggest impact on children. She noted the huge drop in average income in Cape May County, from about $81,000 to $64,000. The state average is about $89,000.
Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College, said the data reflect the decrease in year-round population in the county and do not include those who own summer homes or tourists.
Recent U.S. Census data show the county’s population has dropped 2.5 percent to less than 95,000 in 2015.
“As the year-round population declines, the people that can get jobs elsewhere or old folks that simply pass away are leaving the income calculations. ... Hence, it is dropping as the year-round population becomes more and more lower-income earners with few alternatives and seasonal employment only,” Perniciaro said.
He said the county is left to provide services for the elderly and a population that is getting poorer. He said the statistics will continue to get worse until the county can attract more year-round jobs that pay well.
Atlantic County continues to struggle, ranking 19th for average income at $55,345 and 20th for unemployment rate at 7.4 percent. The county did improve its percentage of children receiving prenatal care, the percentage of children receiving school breakfast and the number of juvenile arrests.
Cumberland County dropped from first to second in the percentage of children who receive free breakfast at school, still its best ranking. But it also has the highest percentage of students chronically absent from school at 15 percent.
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Cumberland has the highest percentage of children in poverty, at 29 percent, and the lowest median family income at $44,606. Families spend on average 57 percent of their income on rent.
The county also has the highest teen pregnancy rate and the largest number of child abuse or neglect investigations.
Statewide, children are making some progress in several important areas of child well-being but losing ground in others. Fewer children lack health insurance, and fewer teens are giving birth. More children are receiving school breakfast.
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 percent and 57 percent, respectively. And 81 percent of low-income households exceed the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
Morris and Hunterdon counties came in first and second place in the overall well-being of their children, both with a child poverty rate of 5 percent and a household median income of more than $136,000.