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Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
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American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
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New Jersey's Emerging Demographic Profile
James W. Hughes By James W. Hughes, Dean
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Demography has always been destiny or, in more popular language, demography rules! And New Jersey has historically been an epicenter of the great American demographic experiment - serving as a final destination of global population flows. The state is still in the midst of a profound economic and demographic transformation, one that has significant historical parallels to an equivalent transformation that took place more than 100 years ago. History does repeat itself! As we made the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, New Jersey was serving as a gateway for the first great immigration wave to the United States. This wave started in Europe and yielded at that time a new population diversity in New Jersey. This was paralleled by our first great economic transformation: the development of a powerful, technology-driven, urban-manufacturing economy. Immigration proved essential to the needs of the industrial economy that was emerging. The state's economy and demography were dramatically transformed, helping to set the cultural and societal foundations of the 20th century. As the century came to a close, the four largest ancestry groups in New Jersey were still Italian, Irish, German, and Polish, descendants of the first great immigration wave.

As we make the full transition from the 20th to the 21st century, a similar sweep of events is now encompassing New Jersey. The state is serving again as a major gateway, this time for the second great immigration wave to the United States. And this new wave is accompanying the state's second great economic transformation: the emergence of a powerful, technology-driven, information-age economy. The second immigration wave is also proving essential to the needs of this new economy. However, the second immigration wave is far different from the first. The European immigration of 100 years ago has been supplanted by today's Latino and Asian immigration. This has yielded yet again a new diversity to New Jersey. So, for a second time, the state's economy and demography are being dramatically transformed, helping set the new cultural and societal foundations of the 21st century.

Once again, a new population diversity is powering the state. Looking forward, immigration now represents fully one-third of New Jersey's current population increase. Latinos now account for the largest share of growth, while Asians have the highest rates of growth. As a result, New Jersey will continue to become increasingly varied in its racial and ethnic composition - and more diverse culturally. And 100 years from today, as the 22nd century unfolds, Latinos and Asians will probably be the largest ancestry groups in New Jersey, setting the stage for the more distant future. Thus, the relentless odometer of cultural history will continue, and demography will again prove to be destiny.

What have our great demographic transformations wrought to date in New Jersey? One way of answered this question is via four brief socio-demographic factoids. The bottom line is that today New Jersey is very rich - and very diverse - and packed close together. Yet we still have an enviable environment and quality of life. This is the end result of our immigration gateway status.

  1. In 2003, New Jersey had the highest median household income, and the highest median family income, among the 50 states, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. This benchmarks our current unique demographic-economic capacity. If we seceded from the United States and became a separate nation, we would be the wealthiest country on earth, followed by Luxembourg.

  2. New Jersey ranks third among the 50 states in our percentage of foreign born. In 2003, 19.2 percent of the state's population was foreign born - almost one out of five people. This benchmarks our unique continuing demographic diversity, which is a key advantage in a global economy. And it represents the continued evolution of cultural diversity.

  3. New Jersey ranks number one among the 50 states in density. In other words, we are the densest state in America. In fact, we are the only state with more than 1000 people per square mile. Our current density is 1,140 people per square mile. To put that in perspective, the density of Japan is 825 people per square mile, while the density of India is 875 people per square mile. This certainly demonstrates our demographic resiliency. Somehow we are able to live together and contribute together despite being packed in very tight.

  4. Finally, despite this density, a higher proportion of New Jersey is covered by forest than states like California and Alaska. In fact we have more horses per capita than in any other state in the nation. Or, from a horse's perspective, there are fewer humans per horse than in any other state. This demonstrates our unique environment and quality of life - a key advantage in a knowledge-driven economy.

The obvious conclusion is that New Jersey is an extraordinary place produced by sustained infusions of new populations from abroad.

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