Latest County Kids Count: Outcomes in Child Well-Being Vary by Race and Region

TRENTON - Despite rising median incomes and declining unemployment rates, geographic and racial gaps persist among New Jersey children across multiple areas of child well-being, according to a release from NJ Kids County County Data Dashboard, released Nov. 22 by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ).

Although prior Kids Count reports have provided statewide data on race, the 2019 NJ County Kids Count provides some race data at the county level, allowing individuals to look at equity issues in their communities. 

The site https://bit.ly/2D5jZHy features dozens of measures of child well-being at the state and county level in the following areas: demographics, child and family economics, early care and education, child health, child protection, school children, and teens and young adults. 

The printer-friendly Kids Count Pocket Guide is also available, featuring a selection of the indicators available on the data dashboard. 

In New Jersey, nearly a quarter of black and Hispanic children live in poor families. 

Poverty is defined as earning $25,465 for a family of four or less in 2018. On average, 14% of New Jersey’s children live in poverty, compared to 7% of white and Asian children.

“We’ve known for a long time that children of color are more likely to face poorer outcomes in every domain of child well-being and state leaders have become increasingly focused on addressing these disparities,” Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of ACNJ, stated. “We commend the state’s efforts to tackle these issues head-on and acknowledge that change does not happen overnight. Our hope is that the data dashboard serves as a baseline for policymakers to assess the impact of current efforts to ensure that every child has a pathway to a productive future.”

Statewide reforms have resulted in dramatic declines in both New Jersey’s number of youth admitted to detention centers annually as well as the number of children living in foster care. However, racial disparities persist:

  • Black children comprise 41% of the total number of the state's children in foster care, despite occupying less than 15% of the state’s total child population. Nearly a quarter of New Jersey’s foster care population is Hispanic.
  • Black and Hispanic youth make up 63% and 23%, respectively, of the total statewide juvenile detention center admissions. Atlantic, Burlington, Essex and Mercer have the highest percentages of black youth admitted to juvenile detention, representing more than 70% of admissions. In Bergen, Passaic and Somerset, Hispanic youth represent 41-45% of their detention population.

Disparities continue in maternal and infant health in the area of prenatal care, infant mortality and low birthweights. Statewide, 8% of babies are born with low birthweights, but among black newborns, that figure is 12%. 

In New Jersey, babies born to black mothers are over three times more likely to die before their first birthday at a rate of 9.6 per 1,000 births compared to white babies at 2.6 per 1,000 births. Three counties, Atlantic, Camden and Mercer, had double-digit black infant mortality rates, at 14.5, 14.2 and 15.1 per 1,000 births.

Between 2013 and 2017, the percentage of expectant mothers receiving prenatal care beginning in their first trimester dipped from 79-75%. Among black and Hispanic mothers, receipt of early prenatal care fell below the state average at 60 and 65%, respectively. 

In Mercer County, fewer than half of black and Hispanic pregnant women received early prenatal care. 

“First Lady Tammy Murphy has prioritized reducing rates of infant and maternal mortality as well as addressing corresponding racial disparities,” Zalkind stated. “And the state has worked hard to improve systems to help vulnerable and at-risk children and youth. New Jersey’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) has significantly reduced the number of youth locked up without risk to public safety. And the state Judiciary and the NJ Department of Children and Families have a renewed focus on racial disparities in children in out-of-home placement.” In child health, the Garden State saw mixed progress. Though NJ FamilyCare saw child enrollment increase between 2014 and 2018, a one-year uptick from 2017 to 2018 in uninsured rates for children under age 19 indicates a need to monitor the data. 

In addition, fewer children under age 6 were tested for lead in 2017, compared to 2013. 

New Jersey continues to see a decline in teen births, but the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among youth ages 15 to 19 increased in all but three counties - Cape May, Cumberland and Warren. 

Several counties saw increases of more than 50% between 2014 and 2018, with Salem County’s teen STD rate nearly doubled, from a rate of 1,302.5 per 100,000 teens to 2,551.8 per 100,000 teens.

While the data are alarming, they may also reflect increased numbers of teens getting tested.

“The disparities draw attention to the need for stronger investments and access to services and programs for New Jersey children and youth,” stated Zalkind. “With every Kids Count release, our hope is that policymakers, stakeholders and community leaders use the data as a tool to make positive changes in their own backyard.”

NJ Kids Count underscores how essential accurate data are to assessing the well-being of children and making informed decisions. It is estimated that 27,000 children under age 5 were missed in the last Census, and the upcoming count may miss even more if young children are not a priority. The stakes are high: many major federal programs, including Head Start and NJ FamilyCare, allocate more than $22.7 billion to New Jersey each year based on census data. 

ACNJ is coordinating the statewide non-profit Census outreach effort to promote participation and ensure that all of New Jersey’s children and residents are counted. To learn more, visit Census2020NJ.org.

Key Trends:

Demographics. New Jersey’s child population is increasingly diverse. More than 50% of the child population are children of color - 14% are black, 27% are Hispanic, 10% are Asian and 9% are of some other race. 

Median Income. The median income for families with children in New Jersey rose by 16% between 2014 and 2018, but the difference in wealth varies greatly. Hunterdon’s median income of $166,766 is more than three times greater than Cumberland’s median income of $49,521.

Child Poverty. Roughly 264,000 children live in poverty, defined as earning $25,465 for a family of four or less in 2018. Morris, Somerset and Sussex had the three lowest percentages of child poverty at less than 6%, compared to Essex, Hudson and Passaic, where 22% of children live in poverty. 

Childhood Lead Exposure. In 2017, 2.8% of all tested New Jersey children under 6 years old had 5 micrograms/deciliter or more of lead in their blood, down from 3.4% in 2013. Salem had the highest percentage of tested children under age 6 with elevated blood lead levels at 9.2%, followed by Essex and Cumberland at 4.8 and 4.5%, respectively.

Child Health. New Jersey’s rate of uninsured children under age 19 was at 3.9% in 2018, increasing slightly from 3.7% in 2017. Essex and Passaic Counties ranked last on this indicator with 6.9% of children without health insurance. 

Child Care. In 2018, more than 409,000, or 68%, of children ages 0 to 5 had all available parents in the workforce. The median weekly licensed child care cost for an infant was $250, with costs varying by county. The number of licensed centers grew by 5% between 2014 and 2018 from 3,964 to 4,169, respectively.

Education. Cumberland and Essex Counties had the highest percentages of chronic absenteeism, with more than 15% missing at least 10 % of enrolled school days or just two days a month. At 4%, Hunterdon had the smallest percentage of students chronically absent, with Bergen, Morris and Somerset not far behind at 6%. Although just half of the state’s children met or exceeded expectations on their third grade English Language Arts PARCC exams, Bergen (67%), Hunterdon (59%) and Morris County (65%) third graders outperformed their peers.

Teens. Mirroring national trends, New Jersey continues to see a decline in births to teens ages 10-19, making up 2.8% of all births in 2017. In 2013, that figure was 4.2%. Still, declines have been sharper in some counties than in others. In Hunterdon County, fewer than 1% of all births were to teens, whereas in Cumberland County, it was 8.4%.

Safety and Well-Being. All 21 counties experienced a decline in the percentage of reported children with substantiated or established cases of child abuse or neglect, dropping statewide from 12.7% in 2013 to 7.1% in 2017. Also referred to as disconnected, or opportunity youth, 11% of New Jersey’s teens ages 16-19 were not in school and not working. Morris had the lowest percentage of disconnected youth, while Cumberland had the highest at 26%. 

Tags