A study conducted in 2016 by the United Way of North Jersey found that 37% of the state’s population earns too much to qualify for federal assistance but are unable to save against the high cost of living in New Jersey. These are New Jersey’s working poor.
37 Voices is a creative collaboration between multiple partners, including the Free Press’ network of New Jersey journalists, Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Public Planning, and coLAB Arts, that seeks to give voice to a representative group of 37 of New Jersey’s working poor. Using first-person, ‘felt’ narratives, this is a unique project that bridges journalism, civic engagement, academic research and the performing arts to amplify the stories of people that do not have adequate representation politically or in the media.
In 2018, the United Way released a follow-up report. Although the state unemployment average was hovering around 4%, the study found that the percentage of people who qualified as working poor had risen to 41%. To represent the increase, 37 Voices reached out to Newest Americans to add four more voices to the project.
We have focused on domestic workers, a largely immigrant work force, many of whom work long hours for wages that are insufficient to enable them and their families to afford basic necessities; health care, adequate housing, nutritious food, or to save for a time when they are no longer able to do the work that makes everyone else’s work possible.
In our first two photo essays, Ursula Simone de Assis and Maricela Bendito are depicted through the lens of Ed Kashi and Shana Russell’s essays.
On December 2, 2018 the first-ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was announced. Co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the legislation draws on the recommendations of domestic worker leaders as well as similar bills of rights for domestic workers that have been passed in eight states and in Seattle. Read more about the bill in this article from Truthout.org.
Dr. Shana A. Russell earned her PhD in American Studies from Rutgers University-Newark. She is a scholar of black women’s labor and the daughter of four generations of domestic workers. She is inspired by black women who write, sing, shout, disrupt, and persevere.
If you like what you read, check out Shana’s Maid in the USA blog.
Mary Ann Koruth is the Program Manager for Digital Humanities and the newest member of the Newest Americans team.
Ed Kashi is a co-founder and core contributor to Newest Americans.
Photo essays made possible by a grant from the New Jersey News and Information Fund, a partnership of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Knight Foundation.