Even before the coronavirus pandemic moved in and wreaked havoc on the economy, two in every five New Jersey children were living in financial hardship, according to a report from United Way of Northern New Jersey.

United Way's research arm, United for ALICE, found that 12% of New Jersey children in 2019 were living in poverty based on the federal poverty level.

Another 29%, or 552,476, were also growing up in hardship, as part of families defined as ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) — they're making enough money to push them out of eligibility for assistance, but not enough to cover the basic costs of housing, child care, health care, transportation, and a smartphone plan.

"Undercounting the number of children who are at risk can have lifelong consequences," said United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO Kiran Handa Gaudioso. "Thousands of children are locked out of receiving critical supports for stable housing, food, and quality education, all of which can inhibit healthy child development."

Initial data suggest that conditions have worsened for many of these children during the COVID-19 crisis, added Stephanie Hoopes, national director of United for ALICE, at United Way of Northern New Jersey.

Having two working parents didn't guarantee financial stability, the report noted. Among households with two working adults, more than 20% of New Jersey children were living in families whose income didn't cover the cost of basic needs. Nearly 196,000 children in households living below the ALICE threshold had no high-speed internet access at home.

The report, ALICE In Focus: Children, highlighted the disproportionate impact of financial hardship on the state's children of color. Sixty-three percent of Black children in New Jersey, and 60% of Hispanic children, lived in households that couldn't afford the basics in 2019, compared to 27% of white children.

Additional research found that in the fall of 2021, 50% of New Jersey families living below the ALICE threshold reported that their children sometimes or often didn't have enough to eat.

"COVID-19 hit ALICE families so much harder than others because they struggle to build savings yet often don't qualify for financial assistance," Hoopes said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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