South Jersey Gets the Short End of the Stick, Rutgers Research Suggests
To all the South Jersey residents who, for years, have said you've been getting shortchanged by the state: you may have a point.
According to new research out of Rutgers University-Camden, southern counties get a smaller share of "public goods" compared to counties in North and Central Jersey.
"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," said Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science and co-author of the report. "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."
The report's findings were revealed during a special presentation Tuesday on the Rutgers-Camden campus.
In the report, budget figures show significantly higher revenue amounts in North and Central Jersey compared to the south. Despite this, North and Central Jersey counties are receiving - on average - double the amount of state aid and state assumptions.
Using data from various state and county resources, the report notes South Jersey residents lag behind their northern and central counterparts in the key categories of public health and economics. Obesity and teen birth rates are higher in the south, along with unemployment and the violent crime rate. College education attainment levels are lower.
And given South Jersey's lower average income and property value, researchers said their findings are counter-intuitive.
"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."
Through "regression analysis," Shames and her colleague said they were able to rule out South Jersey's smaller population size and taxable property value as reasons for the discrepancy in state assistance. Even when taking these factors into account, they still found that simply being located in the southern counties was a strong predictor of receiving fewer public goods.
On the transportation front, the report finds that while South Jersey does not have significantly less road or rail length, the region does have proportionately fewer bus stops and a much higher number of workers who drive alone.
The report does not offer specific reasons as to why this gap exists.
"I don't think there are guys sitting around a table in Trenton, trying to screw South Jersey here," Shames said. "Sometimes goods can be distributed unfairly without intent behind it...The differences that start out small can over time accumulate, and then the advantages grow larger and larger, without people intentionally discriminating against the south."