Report: Poverty in NJ three times larger than census reports

Nearly 3 million people in New Jersey, including 800,000 children, were living in poverty prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one nonprofit’s updated definition of the term.

The study, conducted by Legal Services of New Jersey’s Poverty Research Institute, concludes true poverty in New Jersey, which is on the upper end of many cost-of-living metrics, is triple the official federal calculations of what constitutes poverty. For each individual county in New Jersey, the true cost of living is at least 2.48 times higher than the federal poverty line.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.2% of New Jerseyans, or just under 800,000 people, are living in poverty.

(Click here for map.)

The Poverty Research Institute calls its true poverty level metric a “realistic guide to what families need to make ends meet in relation to their incomes.”

“Below the bare bones (true poverty level) threshold, you are living in actual or true poverty,” said Poverty Research Institute director Shivi Prasad. “You do not have enough income to meet some portion of your basic needs. You are forced to go without, sometimes trading off one critical need for another — perhaps less food to make rent or putting off a health exam or a prescription to secure a child’s winter clothing.”

The study points out that while minimum wage rose to $10 per hour in 2019, a single parent with two children would need to work the equivalent of nearly three and a half full-time minimum-wage jobs to meet the true poverty line threshold.

By the Poverty Research Institute’s calculations, a family of three in New Jersey was in true poverty in 2019 if its income came in under $70,372, while the federal cutoff for poverty was just $20,598.

That same year, the median gross rent for a two-bedroom apartment unit alone was $17,316, according to the study, which would constitute about 85 percent of a federal poverty line budget.

View the full study here.