Morris County slipped to second place in the annual New Jersey Kids Count rankings, which measure progress in improving the lives of children in 13 critical areas, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which publishes the report. Last year, the county ranked first overall in the state.
Despite this drop, the group said Morris County children continue to fare better than their peers in other counties in many areas of child well-being, including lower child poverty, more women receiving early prenatal care and fewer babies dying during their first year of life. The Kids Count research shows the county lost ground, however, in other areas, including more households spending too much on rent and an increase in the county’s unemployment rate.
“While the rankings shift every year, we see certain trends across many counties, including increasing child poverty, unemployment and high housing costs,” said Advocates for Children Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind. “These statistics should be used to inform local, county and state leaders, as well as community organizations, in their efforts to improve the well-being of all New Jersey children.”
Zalkind said that on the whole, kids in Morris are faring well because of higher income averages not enjoyed in other areas in the state.
“The low school breakfast participation rate is disappointing, however," she said.
Some key findings from the latest Kid Count report:
- Child Poverty: With 5 percent of Morris County’s children growing up in poverty in 2011, the county once again ranked second on this critical indicator of child well-being. While this is a drop from the 6 percent rate in 2010, looking at longer-term data, Morris has more children living in poverty. From 2007 to 2011, the county experienced a 19 percent increase in the number of children living in families earning too little to meet their needs.
- Households Spending Too Much on Rent: In 2011, 48 percent of all renters in Morris County spent more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent. This is up from 45 percent the year prior. As a result, the county dropped in the Kids Count rankings from second to fourth place on this measure of economic well-being.
- Health Outcomes. Morris County ranked second in the state on many health indicators, including the percentage of women receiving early prenatal care, births to females ages 10 to 19 and infant mortality. In 2009, 88 percent of women received early prenatal care, 2 percent of all Morris County births were to females ages 10 to 19 and Morris’ infant mortality rate was 3 deaths per 1,000 live births.
- School Breakfast. Morris ranked 18th for its low student participation in the federally-funded school breakfast program, with just 17 percent of low-income children participating.
Like most New Jersey schools, Morris schools can do better by serving breakfast to students in the first few minutes of the school day. Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly increases the number of students starting their day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn. Currently, many districts offer breakfast before school—when most students have not yet arrived, resulting in the low participation rate.
To help counties use the data it has uncovered to address the needs of children, Advocates for Children will host Kids Count Regional Forums across the state, bringing together county, city and state leaders with the people in the community who work with children and families.
“These forums are designed to foster discussions about the data that result in concrete action at the state, county and local levels,” Zalkind said. “When we use data to drive critical decisions about responding to the needs of children, everyone benefits -- children, families, our communities and our state.”