Economic conditions were improving for New Jersey children through 2019, but the pandemic is likely to limit or wipe out progress moving forward, according to a pair of reports released Monday.

In the New Jersey Kids Count 2020 report released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the rate of children living below the poverty threshold was recorded at 12% for 2019, the lowest rate going back to 2015. Also in 2019, the median income of families with children was recorded at $108,421 — that's about $18,000 greater than 2015's figure.

"All positive signs, and we also saw an increase in the availability of childcare," ACNJ President Cecilia Zalkind said during a press conference over Zoom.

The Newark-based nonprofit paired its report, which is made up almost exclusively of pre-pandemic data, with a COVID-19 state-by-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Using data gathered weekly by the U.S. Census Bureau during the pandemic, the foundation found that 20% of New Jersey adults living in households with children, during the weeks of Oct. 14 through Nov. 9, had little or no confidence in their ability to afford their next rent or mortgage payment.

Over those same weeks, 54% of adults living with children said they had lost employment income since March 13, when the public health crisis began resulting in restrictions in the Garden State. And more than 42% said they had difficulty paying for usual household expenses — car payments, food and healthcare, for example — in the past week.

Prior to the pandemic, according to ACNJ'S Kids Count report, 47% of households spent at least 30% of their income on rental costs, which is considered "too much" by advocates.

"Federal funding like food assistance has helped many households through the pandemic, but state and federal leaders must remain committed in addressing the growing needs of our state and removing any roadblocks that hinder the ability for families to access critical programs and services," Zalkind said. "These investments must be supported and sustained at every step."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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