Murphy to create task force on wealth disparity in today’s State of State address

Decision pleases heads of Hispanic and African American chambers

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Jan 14, 2020 at 11:16 am

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce the formation of a task force to address the issue of economic disparity in the state — specifically referencing its negative impact on underserved communities — in his State of the State address Tuesday afternoon.

“Wealth disparity (is) a persistent issue that separates and segregates our communities, harms predominantly black and Latino families, and prevents our state from fulfilling its potential,” he is expected to say, according to a copy of a portion of his address provided to ROI-NJ.

“These disparities have deep roots and complex causes. Overcoming them will require us to leave behind old ways of thinking so we can ensure no resident gets left behind.

“So, I am creating a new task force — government officials, academic researchers, and faith and community leaders — with the specific charge to address wealth disparity from all angles and all causes.

“Their work will better inform our work in closing these gaps and ensure that the communities which have historically been left behind can help us lead.”

The willingness to address the issue — and the creation of a task force — was greeted warmly by Carlos Medina, the chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

“I’m glad to hear that the governor recognizes the disparity our state has,” Medina told ROI-NJ. “It follows the commitment he has made to the Hispanic business community since taking office.

“The shortest path to wealth for Hispanics is to have their own business. We have worked with the Governor’s Office on entrepreneurial programs and training, so I’m confident members of the Hispanic business community will be represented on the task force.”

John Harmon, the head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, also welcomed the news — but said he is hoping for more specifics in its goals.

“I appreciate the acknowledgement by Gov. Murphy, and my organization would be the first to step up and lend our support,” he told ROI-NJ. “However, I would recommend that we also establish some clearly-defined, implementable objectives with timelines and accountability metrics. Specifically, the adoption of the Rooney Rule (which is used for NFL coaching opportunities), where applicable for appointments, professional service opportunities and contracts.”

The NFL’s so-called Rooney Rule says a person of color must be among those interviewed for top positions in the league. And, while the process has not necessarily led to more hiring, it has led to more awareness of minority candidates.

“Blacks and Latinos need greater access to life-changing economic opportunities, skill development and business capacity building strategies,” Harmon said. “Any of these measures, which can be implemented via executive order — similar to Project Labor Agreements — would have an immediate impact.”

It’s unclear if the announcement is related to a hearing at the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Opportunity last week.

There, Jacob Walthour, the co-founder and CEO of Blueprint Capital Advisors and a longtime New Jersey resident, spelled out the inequities faced by underserved communities.

“The sad reality is that, while we enjoy an economic boom on a national level, many of our cities and neighborhoods in New Jersey inhabited by ethnic minorities are suffering from economic depression,” he said. “The truth is that 80% of the poorest ZIP codes are inhabited by black and Hispanic residents as the majority. Young people are fleeing the state because they can’t come home and find well-paying employment. Homeownership continues to decline, and gentrification is on the rise.

“While New Jersey is No. 2 or No. 3 in terms of per capital income and wealth, that income and wealth is not evenly distributed. Income inequality in New Jersey, or the gap between the rich and poor, now ranks 12th-highest in the nation.”

Harmon told ROI-NJ that the disparity can be found in all areas.

“New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in America,” he said. “However, when it comes to equitable participation in wealth creation strategies, employment and contract opportunities leveraging the talent that exists within the Black and Latino sectors of New Jersey, at times it is difficult for some to give them an opportunity to compete, notwithstanding the potential for better outcomes.”

Murphy, who is expected to deliver his State of the State address at 3 p.m., has plans to address social justice as well.

“Let’s lead the way for creating safe communities and neighborhoods through a criminal justice system that lives up to that all-important word, ‘justice,’” he is expected to say. “And, let’s do this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our state will only be stronger — and better — when everyone is a full participant in our economy, our democracy and our society.”

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