So South Jersey literally might be getting shortchanged after all.
Confirming a long-held belief among the region’s residents, South Jersey really does get a smaller share of public goods compared to North and Central Jersey, according to new research by the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden.
“There has long been a popular belief among South Jersey residents that the region gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the allocation of public goods in the state,” explains Walter Rand Institute Faculty Fellow Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers–Camden. “We found that this difference in resource allocation does in fact exist and is not explained by the lower population or incomes of residents of South Jersey counties.”
Shames, who co-authored the study, “Is South Jersey Getting Its ‘Fair Share’ of Public Goods?,” with Spencer Clayton, a Rutgers–Camden Ph.D. student in public affairs, detailed data-supported answers to the question that has challenged South Jersey residents for decades, in a special presentation today on the Rutgers–Camden campus.
According to the Rutgers–Camden researchers, previous studies show that South Jersey is a distinctive region from North and Central Jersey in terms of identity and socioeconomic indicators. South Jersey residents lags behind its northern and central neighbors statistically in terms of public-health factors, such as obesity and teen birth rates; economic issues, such as unemployment and college education attainment levels; and geographic factors, such as rural versus urban areas. On average, South Jersey residents also have lower incomes and are more likely to be living in poverty and receiving government assistance.
Studies have also revealed that North and Central Jersey residents believe that the state’s resources are fairly evenly divided, while South Jersey residents believe that North and Central Jersey get a greater share of these resources. Moreover, they maintain, this attitude of being slighted – as the “Rodney Dangerfield of the state” (Monmouth University Poll) – is part of the collective identity of South Jersey residents.
Using data collected from various state and county print and web resources, Shames and Clayton found that there is merit to these assumptions. For instance, per-county budget figures show significantly lower total revenue, local revenue, state aid, and state assumption in South Jersey, with North and Central Jersey counties receiving – on average – double the state aid and state assumption that South Jersey counties receive. Although it could be expected for North and Central counties to receive more, given their greater populations, the researchers find that population alone does not account for all of the difference.
The researchers note that the findings are counterintuitive, given that South Jersey is poorer in terms of property value and average income. “We have never had a pay-to-play system of public goods in this country or in this state,” explains Shames. “Generally, we think the opposite; we have a progressive tax structure where those who can afford it pay somewhat more to help those who need the help. Or at least that is the hope.”
The study analyzed the provision of public goods, including those related to education, transportation, and public health.
In terms of transportation, the study determined that South Jersey does not have significantly fewer miles of road or rail length or bus length, but does have proportionately fewer bus stops and a significantly higher number of workers who drive alone.
Consistent with prior studies, they also found that North and Central Jersey residents showed much higher levels of college education. Meanwhile, school tax rates and high school graduation rates were equivalent across the regions when looked at by county.
With regard to health and public health statistics, they determined that North Jersey counties have on average nearly twice as many hospital beds per 1,000 residents as South Jersey counties. Moreover, South Jersey counties are statistically more likely to have a higher proportion of children eligible for supplementary nutritional funds and families receiving government assistance; higher rates of violent crime; and higher rates of potentially preventable health problems.
“The higher rates of these problems in South Jersey suggests a generally overall lower level of public health goods in these counties as compared to the north and central counties,” posit the researchers.
Shames and Clayton conducted further analysis to determine if this disparity in public goods is “unfair” when taking into account possible contributing factors such as taxes, population size, and key demographics. They found that simply being located in the southern region was still a strong predictor of receiving fewer public goods, even when taking these other factors into account.