Connecting Workers With Jobs in North Jersey

By Janani Shankaran

Some workers in New Jersey struggle to access stable, living wage jobs even as employers find it difficult to fill openings with skilled workers. This jobs-skills mismatch, coupled with public transit gaps and a disconnect between workforce training programs and employers’ needs, represent a few of the challenges that North Jersey residents face in accessing high-quality jobs. As part of our continuing work with the Together North Jersey regional sustainable planning initiative, RPA completed two studies that explore how land use, transportation and economic development affect access to employment.

In Newark, RPA looked at how to improve access to living wage jobs. A living wage job is one that allows individuals and families to afford the necessities of everyday life; more importantly, these jobs can put workers on a path for professional, future economic independence and success. The study, Newark Access to Opportunity, determined that the  annual minimum living wage for one adult in Newark is about $27,000, and  about $72,000 for a single parent supporting three children.

The study outlines the challenges that neighborhood residents face in accessing good jobs in and around Newark. These include physical challenges like lack of safety near transit stops, poorly maintained sidewalks and insufficient nighttime transit service, as well as socioeconomic challenges, like low levels of educational attainment, limited English proficiency and criminal backgrounds.

In the North Jersey region, RPA worked with North Jersey Partners, an association of workforce investment committees spanning eight counties, to explore how to better integrate workforce strategies into regional economic development and transportation systems. The report found that the North Jersey region’s workforce is aging, while younger and middle-aged workers are disproportionately worse off in terms of employment as a result of the recession. Three out of four job openings in the region this decade are the result of due to aging workers retiring, rather than new jobs being created. Underserved transit in several of the region’s employment centers – particularly those in western Essex County, Morris County and Union County – coupled with limited job opportunity, has resulted in workers increasingly traveling outside of North Jersey to find work.

Both reports identified growing demand for high-skill, specialty jobs that provide living wages, but don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree, including registered nurses, carpenters, automotive technicians and mechanics.

To improve access to jobs and better align transportation, economic development and workforce efforts, the reports recommended collaborating more with private-sector employers to ensure transit service to employment centers, nurturing entrepreneurial environments in transit-connected downtowns and targeting skills training toward living wage occupations that are in demand.