Planning Analysis – Poverty in Maplewood

November 25, 2008CNN Money ranks Maplewood as one of the top 100 places to live in the country in 2007; the ranking is great, and it is one of many throughout the years.

We have a lot to be proud of as a town.  We rank ourselves among the best townships to live in this country. As a community we have class, we have style, we have taste.  As a township we have good infrastructure, a close proximity to NYC, multiple public transit access, and, ah yes, racial harmony (debatable).  We are fortunate to have the South-Orange Maplewood Coalition On Race exist to address issues of race, conflict, and discrimination in our community.  The coalition has a website. It is  Most sentiments center on the belief that our community is diverse in these areas – but what about economically?  Location wise, according to economic brackets, the upper middle class residents of Maplewood live along the border of Milburn Township, lower income middle class residents live on the border of Irvington and Union, and those that fall in the middle income wise also fall within the middle geography of the township.

Maplewood is exceptional primarily because it reflects such a range of diversity.  Low income families are in the minority, but they do exist.  Children in low income families in Maplewood go hungry because they live in poverty.  According to the US Census Fact Finder, 4.9% of children live in poverty in our township.  Broken down further, 6.1% of children living in poverty are between the ages of 5 to 17 years old.  Of major contrast, consider that the median family income in Maplewood in 1999  was $79, 637.  To put this in context, with regard to neighboring towns, the median household income in Milburn, NJ was a whopping $130,848.  How many children under the age of 18 in poverty?  1.4%. Consider also that the median income of families in Irvington is thousands lower than both Maplewood & Milburn – the median income being $36,575 with 22.9% percent of children living in poverty.

The number of children in poverty is staggering.  (According to me,) no child should have to face the reality of little to no food to eat in this world – it’s inhuman.   Maplewood Township is located between two communities with extreme differences in family income.  The gap between the median income of $130,848 of Milburn in relation to the the median income of $36,575 of Irvington reflects a wealth disparity which is in turn found within our own community.  What are these numbers like for our state?  In NJ, the median household income in 1999 was $55,146.  The number of children in poverty is 10.8%.

These statistics are staggering.  What are the variables for poverty, anyway?  I don’t claim to have the answer, but I have selected four variables that influence income, and they are education, type of household, population & race.

Education as a variable

A correlation exists between level of education and economic viability.  In our township, 91.9% of residents have a high school degree or higher, and 50.8% have a bachelors or higher.  In Milburn, 96.6% have earned a high school degree or higher, and 74% have earned a bachelors or higher.  In Irvington,  72% of residents have a high school degree or higher, and 12.1% have a bachelors or higher.  For the state of NJ, 82.1% of residents have a high school degree or higher, and 29.8% have earned a bachelors or higher.  Maplewood, again, finds itself in the middle with regard to Milburn and Irvington.  Maplewood’s statistics are well above our state’s.

Households type as a variable: Married vs Female Headed

The two variables selected are married households and female headed households.  While numerous household types exist, this is my focus.  In Maplewood township married couples make up 58.2% of the households, while 13.3 percent are female headed.  In comparison, Milburn has 71.6% of households headed by married couples, and 6.3% headed by female headed households.  Irvington has 30.2% of married couple headed households and 27.6% of female headed households.  The state of NJ has 53.5% of households headed by married couples, while 12.6% households are headed by females.

Population & Race as variables (Whites, Blacks, Latinos)

Race as a variable is inevitably controversial because of how the census defines racial catagories.  I’ve selected the above three racial categories because I think they are inclusive of OMB’s directive & our community’s population.  With that said, the total population of Maplewood is 23,868.  Maplewood is:

  • 58% White
  • 32.6% Black
  • 5.25% Latino

The total population of Milburn is 19,765.  The racial breakdown is:

  • 88.9% White
  • 1.1% Black
  • 2% Latino

The total population of Irvington is 60,695.  The racial breakdown is:

  • 9% White
  • 81.7% Black
  • 8.4% Latino

And what are the statistics for our state?  The total state population in 1999 was 8,414,350, and the racial breakdown is:

  • 72.6% White
  • 13.6% Black
  • 13.3% Latino

All this information is provided to communicate that the reality of poverty exists in the world around us, and in our Maplewood community. Can we change the face of poverty?  That’s a separate issue.  What I want to draw attention to is the face of poverty in Maplewood.  The face of poverty is different in our community than it would be in other places due to our affluence and our diversity.  I would say that one can’t judge the face of poverty in Maplewood based on race, or household type, but rather a combination of variables which include the visibility and level of participation in activities of children in our school district.  And it’s important to consider that there are people who intentionally maintain the appearance of success regardless of income.  The have-nots can blend in with the haves – to an extent.  But this issue of poverty is something different entirely.  A set of parents face the below questions every dayThese are the worries of the working poor in our community:

  • Can I pay rent this month or do I buy food?
  • What money is the school requesting now for an activity?  Do I even have it?
  • Can I afford day care for my child this month and pay rent?
  • How can I track my childs performance in school if I can’t take time off of work for a parent teacher conference?
  • Where will I get the money for additional prepatory courses for my child?
  • Can I send my child on the 8th grade class trip, or is that a luxury I can’t afford?
  • Should we reveal our need and ask for assistance – lunch, the music program, sports, student activities? (Or do I tell my child to just make do, to forget about what their friends have, to come home, & to just be grateful we live in this town)?

I’m unfamiliar with how CNN Money calculated the statistics on income. My statistics are from the government website American Fact Finder, Census.   Select the link to access the website.  Note that these figures are from the most recent census available to me at this time.  However, Cesus 2010 will be undertaken soon, and more up to date data will be available.  The Census is compiled every 10 years.  Keep me honest.  Check the census site and let me know if my figures are not correct.  I will change them.

© 2010 W. S. Hughes


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Y.S. says:

    This is fascinating data. In other words, there’s a positive correlation between race, education attainment and marriage and lack of poverty. I’m quite surprised that poverty is seen in terms of children’s participation in school activities. It’s an interesting variable and I guess it makes sense in communities like Maplewood. But I’m still left wondering if well being and poverty are not used as substitutes. ..

  2. Y.S. Noted. Low income households struggle to meet basic needs like food and housing and transportation. Low income families are often the face of poverty. Often times people think of abject poverty, images of the destitute. Sadly, a majority of the world’s people fall into this category, and something must be done about this.

    Children should not be born to die. In developing nations like Sierra Leone, a high child mortality rate, and level of poverty, are common place. Leading into the late ’80s Sierra Leone was a center for education in West Africa, along with Ghana, South Africa the third. After a 10 year civil war starting in 1990, the country now ranks last in the world, 2007/2008 Human Development Index – 177 out of 177.

    Other faces of poverty exist too. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote “Nickel and Dimed,” a book that explores how everyday Americans such as waitresses, hotel maids, house cleaners, nursing home aids, Wal-Mart salespersons can not survive on minimum wages in communities across the country. They earn, she describes, poverty-level wages – some people live in cars because they don’t earn enough to pay rent.

    With that mentioned, consider, based on the statistics I provided, that individuals do reside in this community who barely make ends meet. Some work and rent multi-family homes, others rent a room in a house, and work hard to meet financial responsibilities so their children can live in a safe community with a good school system. Others still work as professionals and rent apartments or own homes and have great difficulty paying for housing, food, and other expenses. Many are the working poor, and, as Barbara Ehrenreich writes, they can be found everywhere across America – Maplewood, Milburn, & Irvington included.

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