Opinion: New Jersey by the Numbers — Making Sense of the Census

Data likely to show some constants -- but also some telling changes

The basic data gathering of the 2010 U.S. Census is just about complete. While the major population counts and select data items by state will be delivered to the President by December and to the states by next April, other data — such as demographic profiles — will be released over the following 17 months, from April 2011 through September 2013.

This may seem far in the future, but the Census Bureau’s Annual Community Survey (ACS) enables us to provide an overview now of what Census 2010 is likely to report for New Jersey — in this case, on matters of income and race/ethnicity.

The first likely outcome is that New Jersey will retain its high income ranking. In 2008, the last year of ACS data, New Jersey had the second-highest median household income among the 50 states. Actually, Maryland had the audacity to knock us off of our previously long-held top-ranked income perch two years earlier in 2006.

Nonetheless, our median household income in 2008 ($70,378) was only $167 below that of Maryland ($70,545), a difference well within the statistical margin of error. So, on the income measure, New Jersey is likely to be in a virtual tie for No. 1. New Jersey’s median household income in 2008 was 35 percent higher than that of the nation ($52,029), an improvement over recent years, when it was 32 percent to 33 percent higher.

This benchmarks the state’s current unique demographic-economic capacity. If New Jersey were to secede from the United States and become a separate nation, we’d be the wealthiest country on earth, closely followed by Luxembourg! This assumes, of course, that Maryland was not smart enough to secede.

Obviously, a sweeping statement like that must have a major caveat, and, unfortunately, it does. New Jersey, as most households know, also ranks very high in housing costs. Actually, we are No. 2 in the nation, just slightly behind California. Thus, while the state’s median household income is 35 percent higher than that of the nation, our housing costs – specifically median monthly housing costs for owner-occupied housing units with a mortgage – are nearly 56 higher!

Therefore, a substantial part of New Jersey’s income advantage is consumed by its higher shelter costs — so the state is not as wealthy as it appears. But New Jersey is still pretty well-off, reflecting the historic strength of our economic base, centered on information, financial activities, professional and business services, and pharmaceuticals.

Within this income contour, New Jersey is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse states in America. However, not all groups share in this high-income position. The median income of white households (not Hispanic or Latino) was $79,301 in 2008, more than 10 percent higher than that of all households ($70,378). In contrast, the incomes of black or African American (not Hispanic or Latino) households ($48,781) and Hispanic or Latino (of any race) households ($47,256) lagged significantly. Asian (not Hispanic or Latino) households vaulted to the top rungs of the income ladder, with a median income ($98,632) that was nearly 25 percent higher than white households ($79,301). And approximately 82 percent of Asians in New Jersey are foreign-born.

In 2008, New Jersey ranked third among the 50 states in the percentage of our population that was foreign-born (19.8 percent, or nearly one out of five people). This compares to 12.5 percent for the United States and trailed only second-ranked New York (21.7 percent) and nation-leading California (26.8 percent).

Census 2010 is also likely to show our large foreign-born population to be faring quite well economically. In 2008, New Jersey’s foreign-born households’ median incomes ($65,506) were only 7 percent below that of all households in the state ($70,378), and considerably higher than all black/African American (not Hispanic or Latino) households ($48,387) or all Hispanic/Latino (of any race) households ($47,256). However, they still trailed significantly behind all white (not Hispanic or Latino) households in the state ($79,301).

But, there is considerable diversity within the foreign-born of New Jersey, with some groups among the highest incomes in the state. The foreign-born from Asia had a median household income of $96,079 in 2008, led by the foreign-born of China ($107,794) and India ($106,888). These lofty levels stand in contrast even to the relatively high median household incomes of those foreign-born from Europe ($71,923), as well as to the relatively lower incomes of those born in Latin America ($49,458) and Central America (50, 923). Foreign-born New Jersey households from Mexico, the largest source of Central American immigration, had a median income of $42,434. The foreign-born from Korea ($62,365), while lagging their China and India counterparts, also had incomes considerably above those from Latin and Central America.

So, Census 2010 is about to reveal the complex and evolving demographic and income tapestry of New Jersey. As was the case over 100 years ago, when the first great immigration wave from southern Europe reshaped the state, the second great immigration wave flowing from Latin America and Asia is changing New Jersey in a number of surprising ways. One of these ways is that a number of new immigrants are rapidly achieving the American Dream of significant economic advancement.

James W. Hughes is Dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Joseph J. Seneca is University Professor of Economics at the Bloustein School.

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