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Census Survey’s Employment, Housing Numbers Reflect NJ's So-So Economic Picture

While incomes have gone up in aftermath of recession, housing costs keep climbing while home values keep falling

Income continued to rebound from the recession in most New Jersey communities, but housing costs also rose and home values continued to fall, the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows.

Yesterday, Census officials released 2013 American Community Survey results, including information about municipalities and other smaller areas. The report covers a broad range of 40 topics including demographics, family relationships, education, work and housing. The data is based on an average of five years of information -- covering 2009 through 2013 -- to account for smaller sample sizes. As a result, comparisons with prior years can be skewed because the years of data overlap in the prior samples -- for instance, 2009 data is included in both the 2013 estimates and the 2009 estimates.

That said, the unadjusted median household income for the 2013 estimates was higher in two-thirds of New Jersey's municipalities than it was in the 2009 estimates. That's better than the years during the 2007-09 recession, when incomes generally declined.

The most recent data includes only a small portion of the recent recessionary period, which officially ended in June 2009. But it does not account for inflation, which was roughly 9 percent between 2009 and 2013. New Jersey's economic recovery has generally lagged behind the nation as a whole.

Inflation-adjusted income data for the state's 20 largest municipalities calculated median income increases in just three of the communities. Of seven municipalities with statistically significant income changes, six of them -- Brick, Camden and Hamilton in Mercer County, Jersey City, Newark and Woodbridge -- had drops in income, ranging from 13 percent to 25 percent, between 2009 and 2013. The only one with a statistically significant increase was Clifton, with a 21 percent rise in median income.

According to the five-year averaged data released yesterday for all of the state's municipalities, New Jersey's wealth remained, for the most part, concentrated in the north in Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon and Morris counties. The ACS estimated the highest median household income was nearly $200,000, in North Caldwell. South Jersey communities tended to have lower household incomes -- the lowest estimate was slightly more than $23,000 in the city of Salem -- but Newark, just about 15 miles from North Caldwell, ranked 10th-lowest with just under $34,000 per household.

The value of homes did not fare as well as incomes. Census officials estimate the value of owner-occupied houses was lower in 85 percent of New Jersey municipalities in the 2013 estimates compared to the 2009 data.

In 11 communities, however, the typical home was worth more than $1 million. Unlike the distribution of income, towns with expensive homes stretched the length of the state: Alpine, Rockleigh and Saddle River in Bergen County; Harding in Morris; Allenhurst, Sea Girt and Spring Lake in Monmouth; Bay Head and Mantoloking in Ocean, and Avalon and Stone Harbor in Cape May County. Almost all of the lowest-valued homes were in southwest New Jersey. In Audubon Park and the city of Camden, the median home was valued at less than $100,000.

It's possible that lower home values in some communities could be due in part to the effects of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the Shore at the end of October 2012. Sea Bright and Atlantic Highlands were among the 10 municipalities whose median home values were significantly lower in the 2013 survey than in the 2009 ACS. Tuckerton and Point Pleasant Beach were among the municipalities where there were significantly fewer housing units in 2013. And several Shore communities also had higher vacancy rates in the 2013 data than in the 2009 estimates.

Despite lower home values, the median monthly housing costs for nearly 9 in 10 property owners with a mortgage was higher in the 2013 ACS than in the 2009 data. In 19 municipalities, nearly all of them in North Jersey, the typical home owner paid more than $4,000 a month in mortgage and other costs. In only one community, tiny Winfield in Union County, was the median monthly mortgage less than $1,000. Similarly, monthly rent was higher in close to 90 percent of municipalities in the 2013 ACS. The median rent paid was more than $2,000 in 27 communities and less than $1,000 in 84 others.

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