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Rice/Turner Bill Creating Committee to Focus on Economic Justice, Equal Employment Issues Advances

Senators Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, and Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, speak on the Senate floor.

 TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Ronald L. Rice and Shirley K. Turner to create a joint committee to study issues of economic justice and equal employment opportunities in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Labor Committee.

 “The state’s economic problems hit residents hard, but minorities and low-income folks were disproportionately affected and they continue to face significant hardships, ranging from higher unemployment to a lack of affordable housing,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “We have to take a hard look at the disparities that continue to exist and find ways to address them. This committee will hear directly from residents, business and organizations throughout the state about the challenges that specific populations of New Jerseyans are encountering in obtaining employment, housing and other services and determine how best to ensure equal opportunities for our residents.”

This bill (SCR-62) would create the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity consisting of 10 members of the Legislature. The committee would be authorized to conduct a continuing study of issues concerning economic justice and equal employment opportunity in this state and would meet and hold hearings at places, throughout the state, as it shall designate.

“Studies show that poverty continued to rise even after the official end of the Great Recession and minorities, women-led households and children were among those who fared the worst,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We cannot ignore the problems of poverty that have reached record levels in recent years and continue to plague many of our residents. Providing equal job, housing and other opportunities must be a shared goal in this state and the committee’s charge will be to tackle these critical issues.”

New Jersey’s unemployment rate for March was 7.2 percent and more than 300,000 people are unemployed.  Unemployment rates in big cities in the state and in southern New Jersey are still in the double digits. In addition, poverty levels in New Jersey reached the highest levels in 50 years in 2011, according to a September 2013 report by the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute. More than 2.7 million residents, or about 31.5 percent of the total population, were living in true or actual poverty in 2011.  Municipal poverty was the highest in Camden, Passaic, Lakewood, Paterson, Trenton, Newark and Union City.

The committee members would be appointed by the Senate President and Assembly Speaker as follows: one each nominated by the President of the Senate, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the General Assembly, and the Assembly Minority Leader; and two each nominated by the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus; the Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus; and the Chair of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 3-0-1.