By Erin Delmore
Rutgers Camden Professor Shauna Shames asked her student — a New Jersey native — what the difference is between the northern and southern parts of the state.
“He put it this way: he said, ‘When I think of north Jersey, I think of like McMansions and stockbrokers. And then when I think of South Jersey, I think more blue collar.’ It’s a total over-simplification in a lot of ways,” she said.
But it emboldened Shames’ research on the distribution of government resources throughout the state. Her new report addresses whether South Jersey is getting its fair share of public goods.
The short answer? No.
“Even taking into account things like population or income, the split of public goods between North and South Jersey seems unfair, it seems disproportionate,” said Shames.
Public goods are things or services meant to benefit everyone — like public transportation and schools, health services and infrastructure. In a free market, the best goes to the highest bidder, so in these arenas the government steps in to keep people without means from missing out. The research shows people are missing out, and by and large, they’re in South Jersey.
“There’s just a lower level of things that would make for the middle class in the southern Jersey counties and a higher level of things like public health problems, diabetes, lower levels of college education that would make for poverty or problems in South Jersey,” she said
“We’ve long said that was the case, that the southern part of the state has gotten a lot less resources and has higher unemployment, higher poverty issues and really has a weaker economy. We’ve said it for years. A lack of transportation, we could go on and on and on,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said.
The northern counties are generally wealthier and more populated, likely due to proximity to New York City. They’re also wealthier and larger than its neighbor, Philadelphia. Southern counties have fewer people who generally make less money. That means more tax dollars from the north and less from the south. More political representation in the north and less in the south. And while public goods aren’t meant to be part of a pay-to-play system, North Jersey is paying, and playing, harder. And reaping the spoils.
“Prior to the Economic Opportunity Act, 96 cents of every incentive dollar went to the northern half of the state. Now we’re not trying to say anything nefarious went on, all we’re saying is we need to level the playing field,” said Congressman Donald Norcross.
Norcross represents Camden County and parts of Gloucester and Burlington Counties.
“Were standing at an institution, one of only three four-year institutions in South Jersey, while there’s 27 in the northern half of the state,” Norcross said. “All we wanted is our fair share, and the fact of the matter is that there aren’t enough seats here for the students who wanted to stay in school in New Jersey. That was just one of the issues.”
Norcross said, New Jersey legislators are always working to steer more federal dollars toward the state and while a rising tide lifts all boats, he said he wants to make sure the water is level throughout the state.