The 2020 U.S. Census is just over two years away and there’s a lot riding on the numbers for New Jersey residents.
The state’s 4.5 percent population growth to 8,791,894, as reported in the 2010 U.S. Census, wasn’t enough to justify 13 Congressional seats. And with a new census around the corner, there’s concern yet another could be lost.
“It’s going to be very important, and I think there are already efforts underway in the state to make sure there’s an accurate count,” said John Farmer Jr., who’s teaching a course on gerrymandering at Rutgers University-Newark.
In 2012, the 9th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman, and the 8th Congressional District, repped by Rep. Bill Pascrell, also a Democrat, were merged together. The two then had to face off in the primaries, from which Pascrell emerged victorious.
“It became a very intense process,” Farmer said. “When we did the map, we did it with the knowledge that there was going to be an incumbent in Congress who wasn’t going to survive the next round and was going to be pitted against another incumbent.”
In 2010, Farmer served as the 13th member and politically independent chair of the commission tasked with redrawing the lines for the state’s 40 legislative districts and then-13 congressional districts. Of the other 12 members, six are Democrats and six are Republicans.
Farmer was the tie-breaking vote, and he ultimately went with the GOP-favored map, though he admitted driving “both parties nuts.”
“There are some objective standards that you look at when you look at the maps,” he said. “How many towns does it split? Are the districts compact or spread out all over the place?
“Some of the gerrymandered districts across the country look ridiculous. There’ll be a thin band of property that connects one part of the district to each other.”
To that end, Gov. Phil Murphy on Aug. 24 signed Assembly Bill 4208, which establishes the New Jersey Complete Count Commission, a 27-member group tasked with ensuring there is as much resident participation in the census as possible so the bureau can get the most accurate count.
“Because federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors, communities benefit the most when the census counts everyone,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-27th District, a sponsor of A4208. “We need all hands on deck in New Jersey to ensure that our communities are fully represented in the 2020 census.
The commission will be tasked with developing recommendations and assisting in the census outreach strategy to encourage and ensure full participation in 2020.
Outreach strategies could include the establishment of school-based programs, partnerships with nonprofit community-based organizations and a multimedia, multilingual campaign.
“This commission will help to ensure that traditionally undercounted populations, especially those in minority communities, will have a voice in the census,” added Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-19th District, another A4208 sponsor. “It is tremendously important that the state and the commission ensure that federal resources are allocated equitably to the communities that need them most.”
At least 31,000 New Jersey residents might not have been counted in the 2010 census, according to a bureau report.
Hard-to-count groups include African Americans, non-English speakers, Hispanics, the homeless, senior citizens, LGBTQ, those displaced by natural disasters, young children and the incarcerated.
Further complicating the process is the potential inclusion of a question added by the U.S. Department of Commerce that would require respondents to divulge their immigration status.
Opponents have been wary of such a question in the midst of the current political climate and stepped-up immigration enforcement efforts by federal authorities.
With that in mind, many residents might opt out of taking part in the census out of fear they could be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention and eventual deportation.
The level of federal aid going to each state is contingent upon the results of the census. If New Jersey’s population growth trends downward or slows down, then federal dollars decrease as well.
And the opposite is true: The fastest growing states would receive more federal dollars.
A 2017 report by the George Washington Institute for Public Policy found that in the 2015 fiscal year, New Jersey was the recipient of $17.6 billion in federal dollars.
The five largest programs to get funding were, in order, Medicaid, Medicare Part B, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Highway Planning and Construction and Sector 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.
“There’s a lot at stake in New Jersey getting an accurate census reading for the 2020 census,” Farmer said. “Federal funding, congressional seats, there are any number of important factors.”
The advocacy group New Jersey Policy Perspective on Sept. 10 released a report suggesting the narrative that millennials were leaving the state in droves for lower taxes and cost of living was more “myth” than fact.
NJPP’s report suggests that although millennials (defined in the report as the 18-39 age group) are indeed leaving the state, it’s not at a higher rate than any time between 2004 and today.
On top of that, the rate of those leaving New Jersey isn’t any different from the of rate that of “comparable” states.
“Basically we’re stable and other states around us are pretty stable,” said Cliff Zukin, professor of public policy and political science at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and an advisor for the study. “You see the same pattern for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut.”
“There’s no crisis here, there aren’t people leaving the state,” he added.
The report looked at data from the Census Bureau, which includes numbers stretching back to 1962.
In addition, it relied on data from a statewide Rutgers-Eagleton Poll conducted in November, which asked respondents how they felt about the state’s quality of life, whether they’d move out of their neighborhood or state given the chance and their thoughts on the quality of life in their neighborhood, town or city and the state as a whole.
The Eagleton results found that roughly the same number of young adults and older adults rated New Jersey as a “good or excellent” place to live.
The report generated controversy among the state’s business community, which argued that millennials are in fact the latest casualty of some of the highest taxes in the nation.
“The problem is real, our businesses run across it. They’re having trouble filling jobs, the workforce,” said Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “Millennials are leaving, now that’s a fact. Whether it compares differently to other states, it doesn’t matter. We have a problem we have to fix.”
The New Jersey Business & Industry Association, in a 2016 study, reported the state lost 2 million residents between 2005 and 2014, and $18 billion in net adjusted gross income between 2004 and 2013.
“We should make no mistake that New Jersey is bleeding the next generation of its workforce with the outmigration of high school students to institutions outside of the state,” NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka said of the NJPP report.
James Hughes, a professor and Dean Emeritus of the Bloustein School, agreed the movement of millennials since the 2010 Census is certain to show up again in 2020’s.
“Areas that had been hot growth spots, such as Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren … are all of a sudden losing population,” Hughes said. “New York City, Brooklyn in particular, and then the Hudson Waterfront, Hudson County and the like, were the real growth areas.” Companies have relocated to this same region, leaving behind the corporate suburban headquarters where they’ve been for decades.
Baby boomer nuclear families that made up the housing and population booms in northwest New Jersey have been starting to thin out as well, Hughes continued.
They are moving toward counties along the Hudson River or New York City — Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Union and Middlesex — that have all seen their populations explode. And those baby boomers that have left the workforce have generally been moving to warmer climates.
The outmigration of millennials is certain to have an impact at least on the movement of the state’s legislative districts, with more representation shifting to the Hudson River region, Hughes suggested.
And while the movement has slowed down, he said it’s uncertain where this is a “one-time blip.” Millennials might opt to move back into the suburbs as they begin to start their own families, he opined.
Hughes agreed that many adult residents have been pursuing economic opportunities in other states.
And college-age adults have been leaving New Jersey for education opportunities in states such as Pennsylvania and New York, which each boast Ivy League schools and other competitive universities, leading to the phenomenon known as “brain drain.”
“Kids were maybe bored with New Jersey,” Hughes said. “They had many great options within easy range — Maryland, Delaware. That is reflected within the population statistics. If you go to Boston, it’s so attractive that you don’t want to leave.”
But the mass migration out of New Jersey is part of a regional phenomenon, as residents all across the Northeast and Midwest travel southward or to the West Coast in pursuit of economic opportunities.
“We were once one of the manufacturing dynamos,” Hughes said. “Manufacturing moved south to be more competitive. Other states have been more aggressive with economic development.”