Equitable Policy Change Can Power Health Improvement in New Jersey
RWJF report offers policy recommendations to address health and racial inequities in New Jersey practices and systems.
Princeton, N.J.—A new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released today recommends equity-based policies to transition New Jersey to a place where everyone has a just opportunity to achieve their healthiest life possible—without roadblocks based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or class.
A Policy Agenda for a Healthier, More Equitable New Jersey examines the obstacles standing in the way of health and racial equity and the policy actions needed to drive systemic change. The report offers policy recommendations in the areas of affordable housing, birth and reproductive justice, public health infrastructure, and community power-building.
“In an ideal New Jersey, a person’s ZIP code, race, or ethnicity wouldn’t dictate health. To be the healthiest, most equitable state in America, New Jersey must reckon with the harm experienced by communities of color, resulting from generations of discriminatory policies and practices,” said Maisha Simmons, RWJF’s senior director of New Jersey grantmaking. “We can achieve a new reality when we change narratives, shift power, and unite people for the common good. We look forward to working with policymakers, philanthropic partners, community leaders of color, academic and business leaders, and advocates to advance health and racial equity in our home state.”
Health inequity—the uneven distribution of social and economic resources affecting health—persists in New Jersey despite investments to date aimed at bridging disparities. A growing body of research identifies structural racism—unjust and unfair policies, practices, and norms underlying every aspect of our society—as the core of persistent inequity.
For years, RWJF has collaborated with local grantees, state policymakers, and diverse groups of partners to build a Culture of Health in New Jersey rooted in equity. This new report sparks the next phase of community action and impact.
Last year, a poll by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University for RWJF found that nearly everyone surveyed—about 90 percent—said they believe New Jersey should be a place where everyone has a just opportunity to achieve their healthiest life possible. Yet, when asked whether race and ethnicity majorly influence a person’s ability to lead a healthy life, only 33 percent agreed.
Just as a combination of personal experiences, race, gender, income, education, location, and other factors determine health in New Jersey, so too do they influence public awareness and perception of health inequities and their causes.
This uneven distribution of social and economic resources has a huge influence on people’s health. It persists amid renewed attention to and investment in addressing disparities, because investment alone cannot overcome unjust and unfair policies, practices, and norms embedded in society.
Research shows that achieving equitable outcomes requires more than robust investment. It requires prioritizing racial equity in all aspects of policymaking, building and sharing power with communities, targeting implementation strategies, and developing effective enforcement and accountability mechanisms.
“Since people created the policies and social practices that shape health opportunities, we can reinvent them. It will take leadership, collaboration, and engagement across all sectors and communities,” Simmons said. “Working toward racial equity requires deliberate, meaningful inclusion of residents of color. We can work together so everyone’s children and grandchildren can have the best possible future.”
Key policy recommendations include:
- Support equity-informed decisions and power-building
- Establish a state task force to assess how New Jerseyans who are Black have been harmed throughout state history and propose actionable steps to policymakers.
- Create and fund an interagency equity working group to provide leadership on cross-sector collaboration.
- Assess the impact of significant new legislation and regulations on racial equity in New Jersey.
- Acknowledge the presence and effects of structural racism and plan action.
- Ensure New Jerseyans have equitable access to affordable housing in communities of their choosing
- Invest in more affordable and safe homes across all communities.
- Promote racially equitable land use and zoning policy to provide opportunities for more people to live in neighborhoods that support good health and wellbeing.
- Strategically implement and leverage innovative strategies to facilitate racially equitable homeownership.
- Establish and fund a right-to-counsel for low-income renters.
- Improve maternal and infant health outcomes by enhancing care, support, and prevention to advance birth and reproductive justice
- Continue supporting and investing in a diverse birthing workforce and implicit bias training to provide appropriate care across the maternal and infant care continuum.
- Implement new Medicaid policy to support racial equity.
- Enhance access to comprehensive reproductive health, including abortion care.
- Enhance enforcement of the existing paid leave benefit and increase uptake.
- Center equity in a modern public health system
- Provide adequate and flexible funding and maximize existing assets to support public health services and capabilities.
- Establish a state Public Health Institute to facilitate collaboration within and across sectors to improve health equity.
- Increase state investments to transform public health data systems to center equity and include practical, flexible data-sharing processes.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have.
Our Home State: New Jersey
We are working to address the drivers of inequitable health conditions in the state.
A Policy Agenda for a Healthier, More Equitable N.J.
Address structural racism in policies, practices, and systems to empower individuals and communities in N.J.
Achieving Health Equity
Why health equity matters and what you can do to help give everyone a fair shot at being as healthy as they can be.