BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Report: Newark’s renaissance presents a tale of two cities

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

A new report shows that, despite Newark’s ongoing renaissance as a corporate and cultural hub, the new wealth is not, for the most part, flowing to much of its population — the communities of color that make up the majority of city residents.

The report, “Racial Wealth Divide in Newark,” was the subject of a panel discussion Thursday at the Prudential Center comprising city officials, advocates and the groups behind the report —Prosperity Now, which authored the study, the non-profit New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and Prudential, the Newark-based insurance and financial company.

The panelists hashed over the findings, as well as the challenge of transferring some of the city’s new wealth to all of its residents.

“This isn’t about data, alone. Data only tells part of the story, right?” said Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a national group devoted to eradicating racial wealth inequality and supporting policy solutions that reduce those inequalities. “This is actually about transformation. It’s about us coming together as a community and creating a model city here in Newark.”

The report traces the history of the city, founded by migrants and immigrants who built Newark into a thriving urban center, the state’s largest, with a population in 1930 of more than 440,000.  But white flight to the suburbs, accelerated during the 1967 civil unrest that blacks in the city refer to as “the rebellion,” left a town of 280,000 residents, mostly Black and Latino households living in segregated clusters.

In recent years, Newark has witnessed a transformation of sorts, evidenced by the Prudential Center sports and event arena and NJPAC arts center, the continued presence of Prudential in the city and gleaming corporate towers emblazoned with such names as Audible and Panasonic.

But the report shows how Newark’s story largely remains a tale of two cities, where the new capital wealth is not flowing to Newark’s minority neighborhoods. Jobless rates are 15.8% for blacks, 7.9% for Latinos, 6.2% for whites. And the median net worth for black families is $5,900, $7,020 for Latinos, and $309,000 for white families.

Ryan Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said he had heard doubts expressed by employers in the city about the abilities of many local residents to handle corporate jobs. “So even the narrative around hiring local residents was colored, no pun intended, by race,” he said.

“Systemic racism is so deeply embedded in the economic structure that even with black leadership in this city for the past 50 years — we’re still behind,” said Amina Bey, executive director of Newark Emergency Services for Families, a non-profit whose mission includes providing assistance to the poor and homeless.

The current incarnation of the city’s leadership, Mayor Ras Baraka, urged the panelists to go beyond the information in the report and talk about strategies for change.

“The data has probably been steady for 50 years,” he said. “We’ve been poor in this city since we got here. And that’s not a revelation … What are we doing with that information besides talking about it?”

Baraka saw home ownership as a critical focus. But the study shows less than 25% of people of color own their own homes in Newark.

“People can’t save money because they don’t have it,” said Baraka, a city native whose family has lived in Newark for 70 years. “So the idea is to get people more money. Get more money in their pockets. That’s what we are trying to do, and home ownership is the basis of wealth in this society.”

The city has promoted job fairs and apprenticeship programs.

The Institute for Social Justice wants to help people save, advocating what it calls Individual Development Accounts, those saving to buy a home or start a business receive matching funds though a statewide program.

“How do we pay people a living wage, where they can not just subsist, but flourish,” said Haygood. “And part of flourishing means, earning enough to build wealth.”

He estimated that $25 an hour, which he called a living wage, could finally help people build enough wealth to buy a home.”