Academic journal article Theory in Action

Neoliberal Governance and Uneven Development in Jersey City

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Neoliberal Governance and Uneven Development in Jersey City

Article excerpt

In 2015, Jersey City was once again in the midst of a new round of economic development creating more jobs and housing. A news release from the mayor's office described the construction of 6,000 new housing units along with 18,000 underway as, "the greatest construction activity in the City's history." It also noted that the city added 9,000 jobs in construction, small businesses and corporations resulting in a decline in the unemployment rate from 10.6%to 6.5%. Also highlighted was the creation of 150 new small businesses including 50 restaurants. At the same time, it was noted that: "While growing jobs and attracting businesses, Jersey City has also enacted ordinances such as earned paid sick leave, prevailing wage, stricter [tax] abatement compliance, and project labor agreements to ensure that all Jersey City shares in the benefit" (Jersey City 2015).

In citing steps it has taken to spread the benefits of growth more broadly, the mayor's office was emphasizing that this stage of redevelopment would be more inclusive than those in the past. For decades redevelopment has divided the city with most investment going to its waterfront creating corporate jobs and luxury housing for the newly arrived professional workers. A "tale of two cities" emerged as a common refrain in public discourse by those feeling excluded from the benefits of growth (Donohue 1999; Jacobs 2001; Frasca 2007; McDonald 2014; Morgan 2015).

However, while the current administration may be doing more than previous ones to spread the gains of growth more broadly, its overall topdown approach to redevelopment is similar in perpetuating major inequities. Most of the "new" jobs are corporate jobs being relocated to Jersey City while most of the new housing is market rate "luxury" housing unaffordable for most residents. Subsidized with tax breaks, they are the main drivers of economic development following a pattern of uneven and unequal development over three decades. This is the result of a neoliberal approach to governing in which elected officials continue to give major corporations and developers a free hand in deciding what gets built, where, how and for whom. This paper is an attempt to document some of the ways in which neoliberal policies have been implemented and contested in Jersey City.


The concept of uneven development derives from Marxist theories of capitalist development and is used today by urban geographers and other social scientists to describe the disparate impact of investment and disinvestment on cities. Some neighborhoods prosper while others decline as capital flows into those that promise the highest rate of return for investors. The uneven development that results affects the well-being and life chances of residents as those in more affluent areas have greater access to better jobs, housing schools and safe streets than those in poorer sections of the city (Gottdiener and Hutchinson 2011). You don't have to walk or drive very far in most cities to see examples of this.

The uneven impact of redevelopment in Jersey City, which has waxed and waned for more than three decades, can be seen in current Census figures. Almost a quarter of households have incomes under $25,000 a year while nearly a third have less than $35,000 and over 40 percent have incomes under $50,000 a year. On the other hand, over 40 percent of households earn at least $75,000 annually while 30 percent earn at least $100,000. The top fifth of Jersey City's wage earners receive over half of the city's income while the bottom fifth gets less than 3 percent. The median household income for whites is $72,000; blacks $45,000; Latinos $38,000; Asians $91,000. The per capita income for whites is $49,000 and for Asians $43,000, more than twice that of blacks and Latinos.

The same is true for unemployment and poverty rates. The unemployment rate for whites and Asians is 6%: while for blacks it is 14% and for Latinos, 10%. The poverty rate for whites and Asians is 13%; blacks 24%; Latinos 27%. …

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