Economic mobility remains the great unfinished business of the civil rights movement. Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the existence of “two Americas” sharply divided by race.
In one “America,” children grow up in the “sunlight of opportunity.” But in the “other America,” people of color confront staggering rates of unemployment, poverty, and a lack of opportunity. Half a century after Dr. King made this famous speech, far too many people of color in New Jersey live in the “other America.”
In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, the poverty rate for Black people is a striking 33%—more than double the national average. As a result, it is common to see Newark residents on weekday mornings waiting in an unemployment line that spans nearly a city block, while on the other end of the same street the city is in the middle of a construction boom with over $1 billion of construction projects recently completed, underway, or in the pipeline.
Notwithstanding this major construction, new businesses coming to Newark, and the expansions of several industries, local residents hold just 18% of all jobs in Newark.
That is to say, 82% of those who work in Newark—from corporate employees to first responders, educators, and hospital employees, as well as workers at the airport and the Newark Port—do not live in the city.
We simply cannot empower residents of Newark (or residents of any of our other cities) when so few are employed in their own city. Just as local residents share in the challenges associated with living in Newark, so too should they share in its prosperity.