Pillar I: Economic Mobility

Pillar I: Economic Mobility

Expanding Economic Opportunity

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.

To help realize Dr. King’s vision for economic equality, the Institute, in partnership with Rutgers University-Newark, the City of Newark and the Newark Alliance, is launching a jobs initiative that aims to cut in half the gap in the unemployment rate between Newark, one of the poorest cities in the state, and New Jersey, one of the wealthiest states in America, by 2020.  


This jobs initiative is part of the Institute’s Economic Mobility Initiative, designed to proceed in phases, beginning with the most urgent issues facing people of color living in poverty—unemployment and a lack of access to jobs in the local and regional community.  This pillar of work developed out of the Institute’s 15 years of experience in workforce development, and in advocating for innovative policy change based on the lessons learned from assisting people of color who confront multiple barriers to employment. 


Our ultimate charge is to ensure that the maximum possible number of Newark residents are competitive candidates and receive due consideration for positions in each industry.  



While Newark is central to our work, the Institute is also creating a footprint for social and racial justice in urban communities throughout New Jersey. The future economic viability of the state is dependent upon strengthening communities by adopting standards of equity and justice that will allow all residents to secure the resources necessary to make meaningful contributions to the civic well-being of the state and nation.

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