February 5, 2011 | The New York Times | Original Article

New Jersey’s Ethnic Makeup Shifts, and Population Drifts Southward

In the last decade, the number of white people in New Jersey declined as the number of Asians and Hispanics soared, and the population shifted southward — some of the many shifts with broad cultural and political implications that were revealed in 2010 census figures released on Thursday.

Newark, the state’s largest city, grew 1.3 percent, to more than 277,000 people, reversing five decades of contraction, and the second-largest, Jersey City, grew 3.1 percent, to more than 247,000. But populations declined in several of the largest and most heavily minority cities and towns, including Paterson, Trenton, Camden, Union City, East Orange, and Irvington.

In particular, the state’s most crowded areas saw something of a black exodus from 2000 to 2010; the total population dropped 11.2 percent in Irvington and 8 percent in East Orange, both places that are predominantly black. At the same time, the cities became much more heavily Hispanic.

Over all, the population of New Jersey grew 4.5 percent, to nearly 8.8 million people, but that was far behind the 9.7 percent national growth rate.

Growth was slowest in the state’s densely packed northeast, where most of the population resides. Essex County, which includes East Orange, Irvington and Newark, shrank 1.2 percent, to about 784,000 people, well below its peak of more than 932,000 in 1970. The state’s most populous county as recently as the 1980s, Essex slipped to third in 2010, behind Middlesex, which grew to almost 810,000 people. Bergen County, the most populous, grew 2.4 percent, to 905,000, and Passaic and Union Counties also grew by less than 3 percent.

The southern half of the state boomed by comparison — the populations of Gloucester and Ocean Counties each grew by 13 percent. Lakewood Township in Ocean County, with an expanding Orthodox Jewish population, had the fastest growth of any large municipality, soaring almost 54 percent in the decade, to nearly 93,000 people.

“In some of the more developed areas, you have towns that are pretty much built out, and a lot of empty-nesters,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Factors drawing people to South Jersey, he said, were more-affordable housing and construction of highways providing access to job centers.

The number of non-Hispanic white people living in the state fell by more than 300,000, to about 5.2 million, dropping from 66 percent of the population to 59.3 percent. The shift was even more pronounced among whites under 18, who by 2010 were just 51.6 percent of the state’s children.

“Those are pretty astounding changes,” said Tim Evans, research director at New Jersey Future, a research group. “It’s another sign that New Jersey is on a similar path to California, in terms of becoming majority-minority.”

The Asian population jumped 51 percent, to more than 700,000, or 8.2 percent of the total, while the number of Hispanics climbed 39 percent, to more than 1.5 million, or 17.7 percent. The black population changed little, at 1.1 million, or 12.8 percent.

The ethnic shifts could presage altered economic and political patterns, though financial and voting power can lag decades behind a rise in raw numbers.

In the United States House of Representatives, New Jersey has seven Democrats, representing mostly terrain in the northeast corner of the state, and six Republicans. But the state will lose one seat based on the census.

The census shows heavily Democratic and minority areas losing sway as the state embarks on the once-a-decade task of redrawing district lines for the Legislature and Congress, based on the numbers released on Thursday. Even before the figures were published, Republicans had high hopes of making gains in that process.

But the census also shows traditionally Republican and swing areas becoming more ethnically diverse, with fast-rising numbers of Hispanics, Asians and blacks. In Sussex and Warren Counties, in the northwest corner of the state, the minority population, while still small, nearly doubled.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is the continuing suburbanization of New Jersey, including significant minority suburbanization,” Mr. Hughes said.

One indicator of that suburbanization is that towns that had 20,000 to 50,000 people in 2000 had the fastest growth rate, 6.4 percent. Those with over 75,000 grew just 1.5 percent.

Asian population growth was heaviest in suburban Middlesex County, particularly in Edison, Piscataway, Woodbridge and East Brunswick. The number of Asians in the county jumped more than 50 percent, and by 2010 accounted for 21.3 percent of the population. In Edison, Asians reached 43.1 percent of the population, surpassing whites as the largest group.

In places that were already majority Hispanic in 2000, like Perth Amboy, Passaic, North Bergen and Paterson, their predominance increased markedly. Hispanics became a majority in Elizabeth and nearly did in New Brunswick; they overtook blacks as the largest group in Camden; and they passed whites as the largest group in Hackensack.