Immigration transforming N.J. population

Spread of people into countryside should raise alarm, scholar says

March 22, 2001|By Janny Scott | Janny Scott,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The population of New Jersey fanned out into the state's booming midsection and its coastal counties during the 1990s, according to recently released data from the 2000 census.

The figures also illustrate the degree to which diversity is transforming the state's suburbs while immigration has helped breathe new life into several of its cities.

Hispanics accounted for more than half the state's growth from 1990 to 2000, the new data show. They appeared likely to outnumber blacks in the state as early as this year. Asians were the fastest-growing group, while blacks grew faster than the population as a whole and the number of non-Hispanic whites continued to decline.

Growing suburbs

The numbers paint a vivid portrait of a changing state that long ago outgrew its well-worn stereotypes, a place where the fastest rate of growth is now in the green sprawl of what was once hunt country; where Jersey City may one day challenge Newark's standing as the state's most populous city; and where the state capital, Trenton, has slipped to ninth place, well behind growing suburbs like Woodbridge and Dover Township.

James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said that the broad themes of the census data were that of immigration restocking the state's older urban counties, the potent growth of the state's "wealth belt" and what he and others have called "the suburbanization of diversity."

The data, limited to detailed population counts and breakdowns by race and ethnicity, are to be used to redraw the boundaries of the state's legislative districts.

Somerset County leads

Overall, New Jersey's population grew quicker in the 1990s than in the previous decade and also faster than the populations of New York and Pennsylvania. Its population grew 7.38 percent, to 8.41 million, faster than it had in the 1980s, comparing the new data with adjusted 1990 figures. The fastest-growing county was Somerset County, in central New Jersey, where the population jumped by 23.8 percent.

Other rapidly growing counties included Ocean, Hunterdon, Atlantic, Warren, Middlesex, Morris, Monmouth, Gloucester and Sussex - counties in the state's affluent center, its coastal areas and its rural northwest. But Hudson, the state's most densely populated county, was also on the list. Having shrunk in the 1980s, it gained some 40,000 people in the '90s, largely as a result of the revitalization of Jersey City and Hoboken.

Other cities fared less well, though in many cases far better than they had in the 1980s. Newark, which lost nearly 55,000 people in the '80s, lost about 12,000 in the '90s. Paterson and Elizabeth experienced slight gains, while Trenton continued to shrink. Camden, which grew in the 1980s, lost nearly 9 percent of its population in the 1990s.

It is not easy to assess rates of growth among racial groups because the Census Bureau changed the racial categories between the 1990 and the 2000 censuses.

Minority group numbers

According to New Jersey Department of Labor calculations, 51 percent of the state's population growth occurred among Hispanics. Their numbers jumped from 739,000 to 1.11 million, more than a third of them living in Hudson and Passaic counties.

The Asian population increased by 77 percent, to more than 480,000, making up nearly 6 percent of the state. Their numbers grew quickly in every county, but Asians now account for nearly 15 percent of the population of Middlesex County and 1 in 10 residents of Bergen County, according to the state's analysis.

The number of blacks rose by nearly 105,000, to nearly 14 percent of the state's population, the state's calculations show. More than half of all blacks in New Jersey live in the older, industrial counties of Essex, Union, Camden and Hudson. But their numbers increased elsewhere, too. In Somerset County, traditionally overwhelmingly white, the number of blacks grew by more than 50 percent, to 22,400, Hughes pointed out.

The state's non-Hispanic white population declined by less than one percentage point, the state Labor Department concluded. The counties with the largest drop in non-Hispanic whites included Essex, Hudson and Middlesex, while Ocean, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, in the heart of the suburban growth belt, experienced some of the state's highest rates of white population growth.

About 2.5 percent of New Jersey residents identified themselves as multiracial - a category that had not existed in the census in recent years. The counties with the largest multiracial populations included Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Middlesex. The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives grew, but from a relatively small base.

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