New Haven Rises, a citywide grass-roots organization, packed a Dixwell area community center to publicly launch their campaign for “Access to Good Jobs for New Haven Residents.”
Reacting to rampant unemployment, underemployment, long commutes and low wages throughout the Elm City, organizers have been mobilizing for the past 10 weeks to expand residents’ access to “living-wage” jobs, which pay over 20 dollars an hour. According to recent reports published by the Alliance for a Just Society and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single adult without dependents needs a wage in that range to stay out of poverty in New Haven. With a child in the calculation, the living wage leaps to about 40 dollars an hour.
Organizers held the event after reaching their initial goal of educating 2,000 local residents about the lack of decently paid jobs in New Haven. The venue could not contain the enthusiastic crowd of supporters, who cheered and clapped throughout every speech.
“Our city is on the rise and we are determined to rise with it,” said Seth Poole, one of the campaign’s nine key leaders. “We’re going to improve the economic standing of the people of New Haven.”
Statistics released last year by New Haven’s data hub DataHaven revealed that of the approximately 83,000 jobs in New Haven, only 47,000 were considered to pay a living wage. Only 9,000 of those jobs are held by New Haven residents, and a mere 2,000 are held by residents of inner-city neighborhoods.
“The data speaks for itself,” said NHR key leader Jaime Myers-McPhail, standing at a podium, backed by other leaders holding info graphics describing New Haven employment data. “We’re engaging all residents in a discussion about this crisis.”
To organizers, the “jobs crisis” can be solved by collective community action and by educating other city residents, as it did in its initial campaign. Their petition demanding greater job access for city residents has accumulated over 4,000 signatures.
“We as a city coming together will create more access to good jobs,” said Rev. Scott Marks, an organizer for New Haven Rises. “We need to build consensus.”
While they did not fully develop specific demands, organizers and audience members were vocal and passionate about continuing a broader call for more access to jobs.
The campaign’s next steps will be to send letters to the 20 top employers in New Haven, including Yale-New Haven Hospital and United Illuminating, to make them aware of the employment situation and ask for their help in hiring more New Haven residents, said Kenneth Reveiz, another of the campaign’s Key Leaders. New Haven Rises also plans on collaborating directly with the Chamber of Commerce.
“Employers probably have no idea what’s going on,” Poole said. “This movement is meant to bring this situation to light.”
About 10 alders aligned with New Haven Rising were in attendance Tuesday. The organization emerged partly out of electoral grass-roots organizing in 2011, supporting the wave of labor-backed alders who are now in the majority.
Several other elected officials, including Senator Gary Holder-Winfield and Mayor Toni Harp’s chief of staff Tomas Reyes also came to demonstrate support for the campaign.
Poole said that New Haven officials are key allies because they can implement policies that would encourage employers to prioritize employees or contractors from the city. With huge developments on the horizon, he said, there will be many opportunities in the near future for the city to help get more residents to work.
“We need leadership and courage from you,” Reveiz addressed the politicians in the crowd. “We are pushing to expand access and open up the doors for all.”
Another issue the campaign intends to address is unemployment and underemployment in the city. According to DataHaven’s 2013 Community Index, unemployment in low-income neighborhoods in New Haven, at 17.9 percent, is nearly twice the national average. About a third of jobholders, moreover, can be counted as underemployed.
Pastor Valerie Washington and Pastor Héctor Otero, among the 25 faith leaders flanking the podium, delivered impassioned sermons stressing the importance of good jobs for their congregations.
Both said that many of their members are forced to work two or three jobs to stay financially afloat, which has a profound impact on their children’s safety and success.
New Haven Rises was chartered in July 2012.