Interactive Map: Charting the Rocky Terrain of Income Inequality in NJ

Census data for 2016 shows the median household income of blacks was, on average, little more than half that of non-Hispanic whites

A large income disparity exists among New Jersey’s white and minority communities, larger than the nation as a whole, and it is a gap that has only gotten wider since before the Great Recession, an analysis of U.S. Census data shows.

Recently released American Community Survey data for 2016 shows that the median household income of blacks was, on average, little more than half that of non-Hispanic whites. Census officials estimated that the median household income for blacks was $47,696. Non-Hispanic white median household income in 2016 was $86,361, with $52,599 for Hispanics. Asians had the highest median income, $109,058.

Further, according to census estimates, Hispanics had just $6 in median income for every $10 that whites had.

Disturbing news

This is disturbing, but not surprising, to Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. She said that racism “operates as a perpetuating force and serves as a resistance to change in the historic distribution of wealth.”

The group released a report earlier this week that links poverty and racism in New Jersey. That report, “The Uncomfortable Truth: Racism, Injustice, and Poverty in New Jersey,” contends, “Structural racism inhibits the opportunities available to people of color to be productively employed, accumulate wealth and achieve financial stability.” It states that blacks and Hispanics still face workplace discrimination, have inadequate opportunities for job training, and also suffer from inequities and discrimination in the tax code and banking system.

Although all the racial and ethnic groups in New Jersey had median incomes higher than the national averages, the disparities among them were also larger in New Jersey than in the United States. The median income for blacks across the country was 61 percent that of whites, while Hispanics’ income was almost three-quarters the amount of non-Hispanic whites.

Income gaps

All four racial and ethnic groups in New Jersey had less income last year than 2007, at the start of the recession, when adjusted for inflation. But white income grew more than the other groups, causing the income gaps between whites and blacks and whites and Hispanics to grow, by 4 percentage points and 2 points, respectively, while the white gap with Asians got slightly smaller.

“The racial wealth divide between Black and Hispanic households and White households has been growing steadily, jeopardizing the opportunities of Blacks and Hispanics to improve their economic status,” the report asserts.

There are vast geographic differences in the gap, supporting other contentions in the report about segregation in the state, which it terms the third most segregated in the nation. It calls New Jersey “a suburbanized state with little regard for the cities many of its residents fled.”

Camden and Cherry Hill

An example of this is the wide income differences between Camden and nearby Cherry Hill. The median income of $26,783 in Camden is just about a quarter that of its larger and wealthier neighbor. For blacks, the difference is even more striking, with the median household income in Camden a poverty-level $22,990, versus $145,859 in Cherry Hill. But just 6 percent of households in Cherry Hill were black, compared with almost 45 percent in Camden.

Blacks in Essex County had just 37 cents in income to every $1 for white households. This is a good example of a regional gap, as both groups make up a similar proportion of the total households in the county. In Hudson County, where Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites account for almost equal parts of the population, Hispanics had 53 cents of income for every $1 whites had.

The gaps are smaller in other counties, but these tend to be places where the minority households make up a small proportion of the total, which can skew the results. In Warren County, for instance, black median income is slightly higher than that of whites, with both totaling around $76,000, but black households make up only about 4 percent of all, while 86 percent of households are white. In Ocean County, Hispanic households are about 7 percent of the total, compared with 88 percent non-Hispanic white, and Hispanic median income was about 95 percent that of whites.

Census data is also available for the 22 most populous municipalities in the state, though in the smallest of those, the numbers could also be biased by a small sample size. However, New Jersey’s largest cities, with about 100,000 households apiece, do offer valid examples of the disparities. In Newark, black and Hispanic household income was two-thirds or less that of non-Hispanic whites. The picture is even starker in Jersey City, which has undergone a renaissance leading to an influx of higher-income wage earners to its revitalized downtown. There, neither black nor Hispanic household income reached even half the level of whites.

The APN report lays out nearly two dozen policy recommendations in the area of economic injustice alone that it states are needed to close the disparities. Among these: raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide better remedies through legislation for unfair hiring and promotion practices, and create more high-quality, affordable childcare and improve expensive and unreliable public transportation systems.

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