It’s time for a black women’s agenda in New Jersey
Black women have always been among the most marginalized groups in the United States. Yet, as the past two years have made clear, while others are talking, black women get the job done. We organize, mobilize and respond when our democracy is under attack, when our communities need support and when our children’s future is at stake.
A political agenda centered on black women would put New Jersey on the right side of history and expand economic opportunity to all corners of our state. Candidates for governor are expected to use the last weeks of this election season to adopt such a platform. Black women are careful. We still do.
What would such an agenda look like?
A recent Highlands Project survey interviewed more than 700 black women across the country. He highlighted several key priorities, including closing the racial wealth gap, tackling systemic discrimination in all sectors, protecting voting rights and eliminating student debt.
At the heart of The Highland Project’s work is a simple but revolutionary idea: investing in black women benefits everyone in society. Take the economy, for example. Nationally, the purchasing power of black women is estimated at over $ 500 billion. Yet black women carry the highest student loan debt of any demographic in the country.
New Jersey is certainly not immune to these trends. New Jersey has one of the largest wage differentials in the country between white men and black women, at 55 cents on the dollar. Overall, white residents of the state have a median net worth of over $ 100,000, compared to just $ 179 for black residents. As housing costs have risen, wages have stagnated and many families have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut during the pandemic – a combination of factors that has made New Jersey one of the most unequal states in the world. country.
We can unleash the economic potential of black women with the right policies. However, it is not just a question of creating wealth in the traditional sense of the term. The Highland Project asks us – wisely – to reinvent the racial wealth gap and start thinking beyond money to address inequalities in power, leadership, social mobility, property and justice. . By taking this holistic approach to dealing with injustices, we can disrupt the systems that have kept black women from achieving their God-given potential.
There is work that leaders can do at all levels of government to center black women in their political agenda. Here are five ideas that New Jersey’s political leaders – especially gubernatorial candidates – should champion.
- Make voting easier. Access to the vote is a major concern for black women nationwide, and although New Jersey has taken steps to improve voting systems, there is still work to be done. Voter turnout actually declined last spring in Newark, even during a relative lull in the pandemic. This is because city and state leaders have abandoned some of the practices that helped increase turnout in 2020. There is no reason New Jersey should not implement voter registration on the. same day, and the state should revert to a system in which every registered voter receives a ballot. in future elections.
- Make the college more accessible. The crippling burden of student debt holds back young people of all backgrounds, but it is a particular strain on black women. Governor Phil Murphy’s successful efforts to provide free tuition for students from low-income households have been a big step forward, but we don’t need to stop there. The state should consider making tuition free for low-income students at all state universities, setting an example for the rest of the nation.
- Guarantee basic income. The best way to help a family in difficulty is to provide cash assistance. Give families enough money to cover more of their basic needs, and they don’t have to choose between putting food on the table, paying for life-saving medicine, or keeping the lights on. In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka has launched a guaranteed income pilot program that will provide 400 Newark residents with $ 12,000 over two years. This pilot should be extended to other communities in New Jersey, especially those communities that need it most.
- Start a statewide baby-bond program. There is no better time to start building wealth than at the birth of a child. With a “baby bond”, the government deposits money in a savings account when a child is born and allows it to grow over time. This funding can then be used for college tuition, business school, or to support a down payment in the future. The baby-bond program was championed at the federal level by our own Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Why not pilot it right here in New Jersey?
- Attract more black women into leadership roles. This is a call to action for everyone in positions of power, whether they are an elected leader, a CEO, an investor in start-up companies or a head of a large agency: it is your responsibility to give black women the same opportunities to occupy positions. power. The state should lead by example and set targets for everything from the number of black women running state agencies to the percentage of contracts awarded to black women in state and municipal bidding processes.
These are just five ideas: there are many more that can and should be explored. The important thing is for New Jersey to recognize the power of black women and proactively confront the systems that prevent them from accessing it. If we do this, we will be leading the nation towards creating a more just and equitable society, something that benefits all who care about the Garden State.