In February, the FBI named it the most dangerous U.S. city of its size. Forty percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line and its unemployment rate is three times the national average. Fewer than half of its students graduate from high school and three of its mayors left office heading directly to jail.
Camden, New Jersey — which sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — has been notorious for decades, but the buzz words today are rebuild, revitalize, restore and relocate. In fact, in the second half of 2014, six major development projects have been approved for more than $600 million in tax credits from the state’s Economic Development Authority, drawing attention from both the Washington Post and the New York Times in recent weeks.
But what will that mean for Camdenites? So far there have been no requirements to hire city residents for any of the expected 2,000 new jobs (nor contracting requirements). “Awarding profitable corporations billions of dollars mostly to shift jobs around New Jersey is not a job-creation strategy,” Gordon MacInnes of the New Jersey Policy Perspective told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a feel-good gimmick.”
Mayor Dana L. Redd told the New York Times that the activity is giving residents “a sense of hope and pride,” but the long-term question will be, “What else?”
Missing in the many stories was any discussion of education. How can any struggling city be rebuilt, revitalized or restored without addressing the other three R’s? Couldn’t Subaru of America, Lockheed Martin, Cooper Health Systems, the Philadelphia 76ers and Holtec International take even a small percentage of their tax breaks to establish Promise programming for Camden City Schools, which now have about 13,000 students?
An eight percent giveback on the tax credits would yield about $50 million, which on its own could keep a vibrant Promise program alive for at least two decades. Using those dollars to ensure additional income could sustain it well beyond that and the residents of Camden would at least have something to show for all its attention.
Brett Hoover — who founded Cities of Promise — was formerly the Associate Director of the Ivy League