In the national spectrum, when the issue of poverty comes up, one is most likely to hear about Camden, New Jersey. Camden is considered to be the most impoverished city in the United States per-capita, the most dangerous city in the United States, and speaking in terms of the State of New Jersey, it has one of, if not the most under-performing school districts according to testing results. Camden has received a lot of bad press this past year from national media outlets, such as NBC with Brian Williams, or Rolling Stone Magazine. These media sources focus on the absolute worst aspects of the city, which in a way is insulting to those who are trying so hard to turn their community around, but in another way it is necessary to shed light on a city that seems to continuously be forgotten by the surrounding wealth and lawmakers.
What I believe to be most detrimental about these media publications, besides the continuous public slander of the city’s citizen’s reputation, is that they miss an even bigger and badder dark truth about the State of New Jersey. This is not to say that Camden should not be a focus point, but what I am about to introduce, in a way, obnoxiously overtakes the woes of Camden and introduces the true reality of impoverished New Jersey.
When asked the question, “Which New Jersey County do you believe to struggle most with poverty and/or reliance on State Aid?”, the majority of people will respond “Camden County” mainly because the county encompasses Camden City. This presumption also stems from the harsh national attention that Camden City has received not just in the past year, but for decades. These presumptions are wrong.
The correct answer to the above question would be Essex County. Now, it is important for me to explain how I have arrived at this conclusion. No, I did not do a complete investigation that analyzed each municipality’s poverty rate. Instead, I looked to two Public Documents for measurement; The New Jersey Department of Education-Office of School Finance 2013-2014 K-12 Projected State School Aid, using the 2012-2013 data, and a complete list of Municipal State Aid obtained from PolitickerNJ, using the 2012-2013 data as well.
I highlighted municipalities of concern as those that received more than $10,000,000 in Municipal State Aid as well as receiving more than $100,000,000 in Educational State Aid in the same year. My findings were shocking, showing that some municipalities doubled or in Newark’s case almost quadrupled Camden’s Aid amounts. My main objective in searching for this data was to hopefully prove the media outlets wrong, to hopefully yet unfortunately say that elsewhere in New Jersey, there is a place that requires their negative attention.
However, proving that other municipalities receive more Municipal and Educational Aid than Camden does not make them worse in the eyes of the media outlets because it is still true that per capita, Camden is still the most impoverished and the most dangerous.
But now, I ask you to look at the image below that shows the locations of the municipalities of concern in red circles, and in green circles, the municipalities that are very close to making the criteria to become red circles.
As you can see, there are 15 areas of concern in this image, 12 of them being red and three of them green. Not seen in this image are what I call the outliers of poverty in New Jersey; Trenton, Vineland, and Camden. They are completely away from the above trend, but still, per capita, Camden hold to it’s reputation.
Seven of the twelve municipalities that meet the criteria of being municipalities of concern have borders that touch. This creates what I believe to be the true image of poverty in New Jersey. It is an image that re-proves and supports Dr. Paul A. Jargowsky’s research on the spread of concentrated poverty (Poverty and Place, 1997). Areas of high poverty concentrations have spilled over into neighboring municipalities between three counties, thus creating a large amoeba-like territory that has become reliant on State Aid to function.
I believe that if the city limits were ignored Amoebaville, New Jersey would instead be the focus of national, perhaps international attention, rather than Camden. Amoebaville has approximately 890,999 residents, and is roughly 77 square miles. Amoebaville also received a combined $2,083,815,776 in Municipal and Educational Aid.
This is why all New Jersey residents and lawmakers need to take Poverty more seriously. Throwing Special State Aid at these struggling municipalities is not helping the issue. It is simply a band aide, a pacification, but all very necessary.
If this Spacial State Aid was not made available, there would be several bankrupt Detroit-like places in the Garden State.
This is why Pennsauken and Cherry Hill residents need to get involved with Camden’s poverty issue. As it is clearly shown above, it is highly possible and probable that the spread of poverty and it’s woes can reach even the richest of front doors.
I believe, most importantly, that this shows that impoverished areas are systemic phenomena that occur in America, and they can be reversed.
-Brian K. Everett