By David Cruz
If you’ve been an observer of Newark for a while, you are probably quite familiar with the scene. Newark’s political, business, education, clergy and social service communities, coming together to commit to joining forces in an effort to bring jobs and economic opportunity to Newark residents.
“It’s not normal for us to expect the city to grow, to expect crime to reduce, to expect our economy to thrive, to expect families to be secure and wholesome and growing with an unemployment rate that constantly is twice that of the state or twice that of the federal government,” said Mayor Ras Baraka.
The result is a new plan: Hire. Buy. Live. Newark. The goal is 2,020 Newarkers in jobs, both high-skill and entry-level at a variety of Newark’s largest employers, including Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Prudential, Audible, Panasonic, Rutgers University and more.
At the center of the plan is a study by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. What it shows is that 62 percent of Newarkers are working poor – and two-thirds of residents make less than $40,000 a year. Forty-two percent of kids in the city live below the poverty line. While just about three quarters of Newark residents are people of color, nearly two thirds of workers in the city are white and residents hold just 18 percent of all jobs in the city.
“The disparities in employment in the city of Newark cannot be explained by Newark residents not wanting to work or being unqualified to work,” noted New Jersey Institute for Social Justice President and CEO Ryan Haygood. “Instead, these disparities reflect systematic challenges that require a systematic response.”
Today’s announcement was short on specifics of how the goal of 2,020 by 2020 will be reached, but some of the corporate citizens – noting that the Newark job pool is already overflowing with high quality workers – were ready to make their commitments public.
“I pledge publicly that we shall hire 350 Newarkers by 2020,” promised RWJ Barnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky.
Rutgers Chancellor Nancy Cantor promised that the university will continue its commitment to the city.
“You can’t democratize the economy until you democratize education,” she said, “so everything we’re doing in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative is the same thing as what we’ll be doing when Rutgers collectively commits to 220 jobs to Newark residents by 2020.”
This city has seen its share of positive pressers with promises and projections. Often, longtime residents will tell you the reality falls short of the promise, but today, no less a Newark OG than Richard Cammarieri of New Community Corporation blessed the plan with a vote of confidence.
“I’ve been in Newark all my life. My grandfather came here in 1899, so I can say whatever the hell I want about Newark,” he began. “We have been disappointed before, heartfelt disappointment. However, I will say it feels different, it sounds different, it looks different. One of my tropes is ‘my optimism is always guarded.’ I will divest myself of that qualifier today and say I am optimistic.”
To be sure, most of those in this room today are supporters of Mayor Baraka, and he would not be the first Newark mayor to make promises about jobs at the start of an election campaign. But, as Newark makes large symbolic strides in economic development, there is an increased sense that conditions may be right for this jobs plan to stick.