Atlantic and Cumberland counties rank the lowest for child welfare according to the New Jersey Kids Count report released today. Cape May and Ocean counties both improved their rankings.
Cumberland County ranks 21st out of the state’s 21 counties, down from 20th last year. Atlantic County moved down from 19th to 20th. Cape May County improved from 18th to 15th, and Ocean County improved from 13th to 10th.
The annual report is released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, or ACNJ, to highlight issues affecting children in the state. It includes data on family income, housing access, birth rates and state test results.
ACNJ spokeswoman Nancy Parello said changes in one county can affect the rankings of other counties, even if not much has changed in that county, so they try to highlight specific issues in each county.
“The change from year to year can be incremental,” she said. “The goal is to draw attention to the issues that persist year to year.”
Poverty and unemployment in South Jersey remain primary factors in the status of children.
Cape May County has shown a reduction in children in poverty, but that could mean poor families are leaving the county, which at 13 percent, also has the highest rate of unemployment.
The report shows 10 percent of Cape May County children live in poverty, compared with 18 percent in Ocean County, 22 percent in Atlantic County and 24 percent in Cumberland County. The state average is 15 percent.
Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties rank among the highest statewide in children receiving free breakfast at school, a reflection of the high number of low-income children eligible for the federal free-meal program.
Cumberland County ranks 21st in percentage of students passing state tests at the fourth-, eighth- and 11th-grade levels in 2012-13. Atlantic County improved its ranking on the 11th-grade tests from 17th to 15th but still ranks 19th on percentage of students passing the fourth-grade tests and 15th on the eighth-grade tests.
More than half of all families in all four counties spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The state median family income is $85,185, compared with $78,900 in Ocean County, $61,235 in Cape May County, $53,831 in Atlantic County and $51,113 in Cumberland County. Cumberland has the lowest median income in the state, and at 60 percent, the highest percentage of families spending more than 30 percent on rent.
Parello said ACNJ hopes policymakers use the data to develop ways to address the problems in their counties.
“This is a way to get people to think about and develop plans to address these problems,” she said
ACNJ has scheduled free regional forums in May and June to discuss how to respond to the needs in specific counties.
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