Putting New Jersey’s Shrinking Per Capita Income on the Map

Colleen O'Dea | January 16, 2015 | Map of the Week, Maps
Income growth in the Garden State lags behind the nation as a whole and isn’t keeping pace with inflation

In touting New Jersey’s “attractions” in his State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie proclaimed that the state is “number four in per capita income.”

That is indeed the case when the District of Columbia is included; New Jersey is actually third just among the states. But New Jersey was the second-ranked state, behind only Connecticut, as recently as 2008, in the midst of the recession. And the growth in per capita income since then has lagged behind both the nation as a whole and the rate of inflation, data shows.

In 2013, the average per capita income in New Jersey was $55,386, lagging Connecticut by more than $5,000 and Massachusetts by some $2,000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was an increase of less than 1 percent from 2012, compared with a national rise in per capita income of 1.3 percent. At the same time, inflation rose by 1.5 percent, according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator, which uses Consumer Price Index data.

Income growth in the counties has been uneven. Only four — Monmouth, Cape May, Mercer, and Warren — saw per capita income rise by at least the rate of inflation between 2012 and 2013. In Passaic, Morris, Bergen, Atlantic, and Hudson counties, the average income per person rose by less than 0.5 percent.

In reacting to Christie’s comments, Gordon MacInnes, a former state senator and president of the progressive New Jersey Policy Perspective, noted that slow job growth, a very high long-term unemployment rate, and a rise in poverty all continue to make for a challenging economic picture.

“Yes, some jobs have been created since the Great Recession, but not enough to bring back the middle class or lend a hand to striving working families,” MacInnes said, adding that only half the jobs lost during the recession have been recovered, leading to lower revenue levels.

New Jersey’s per capita income in 2013 was 6.9 percent higher than five years earlier, and that rate of growth also lagged behind the 8.2 percent rate of inflation. Historically, New Jersey incomes used to more than keep up with the rising cost of goods. Compared with a decade earlier, every county but one — Atlantic — saw per capita income rise at a greater rate than inflation. The same was true of the change in income over the past quarter of a century compared with inflation. The average per capita income statewide grew by 34.5 percent between 2003 and 2013, and by nearly 150 percent from 1988 to 2013.

Somerset County had the highest per capita income in 2013, $77,685, while Cumberland had the lowest, $35,825.