Census Results: A Shake-Up in the Garden State

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Sam Roberts, urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, discusses the 2010 Census results and what they reveal about New Jersey.

New Jersey is set to lose one seat in the House of Representatives as a result of a decade of relatively small population growth. Roberts says the phenomena of the shrinking city is evident in New Jersey as in other urban areas across the country. Some areas, however, are bucking the trend.

One of the fascinating things about the 2001 Census is that Newark grew. [It] grew slightly, just about one percent or so, but it was the first time Newark grew in about three decades.

While growth by itself is not always necessarily positive, Roberts said the increased economic activity that drives growth may be sign that an area is becoming stronger. In New Jersey, growth was particularly evident in southern counties.

What you’re seeing is suburban growth. You’re seeing suburban growth away from the northeastern suburbs of New York City, which means a shift, probably to some extent, in political clout. We’ll see that in legislative reapportionment first, and then a little bit to a lesser extent in congressional apportionment… New Jersey will lose one congressional seat and a lot of jockeying [is] going to go on to see whose seat that is.

The biggest growth was in Ocean County, with a 13 percent population increase since 2000. Roberts said that may be partially due to people being priced out of northern suburbs, but he also cited the high number of retirement communities found in Ocean County to help explain the increase.

There is a very high ratio of older people, however we define that these days, compared to younger ones. In fact, the dependency ratio — the number of people who are over 65 compared to the working population — is about the same in Ocean county as it is in Japan these days.

Ocean County also had the fastest growing individual township in the state, the township of Lakewood, which increased by 54 percent from a decade ago. Lakewood is too far to commute to New York City, but Roberts says this census also indicates that people are now more likely to be working closer to where they live.

Not everyone who lives in the suburbs commutes into the city… just as not everyone who lives in Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens [and] Staten Island commutes into Manhattan anymore.

He said more while jobs are evident in suburbia, there is also more suburban poverty, not just in New Jersey but across the nation.

That could be a reflection of more minorities moving in, although again, a lot of those minority people are middle class or lower middle class, but also [of] increases in pockets of poverty that go beyond the traditional city areas.

Lakewood has a growing Orthodox community, senior population and Hispanic influx. The diversity within this last group Roberts finds particularly interesting.

It’s not just an increase in Hispanic people, it’s a very diverse group of Hispanic people, as we’ve seen with the Asian population nationally and with the Hispanic population nationally. These are coming form all over Central and South America… a great deal of variety in where people are coming from.

While New Jersey grew in population overall, the population in the southern and western United States grew faster, so those states will gain some seats and New Jersey will lose one. Roberts said the change in population within New Jersey to the southern counties will bring about a political shift in-state as well.  He believes the coming redistricting battles are sure to be rough.

Redistricting is a process which is not only arbitrary but aggravating to many people, because politicians are usually most interested in self preservation, and clearly someone in this equation is going to have to be sacrificed.