Demographic shifts prompt sea change

Staff Writer

 Population growth has put a strain on infrastructure, creating the need for investment in bridges, roads and tunnels, along with an update to bus and train systems.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Population growth has put a strain on infrastructure, creating the need for investment in bridges, roads and tunnels, along with an update to bus and train systems. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The population of central New Jersey is expected to grow as the number of foreign born workers increases and young professionals flock to urban centers.

James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School at Rutgers University, said he expects Middlesex County to continue its growth, while Monmouth County will reverse its recent downward trend in population.

“Both counties have advantages. We are not making anymore waterfront property, so water is magic, the Jersey Shore is still magic,” he said. “Monmouth is always going to be an attractive destination. “It is the quality of life, the amenities in Monmouth County that will make it attractive,” he added. “In Middlesex, you can have a greater concentration of office workers.”

Hughes said one of the factors in the growth of Middlesex and the decrease in Monmouth is the prevalence of foreign-born workers.

“We have one of the great concentrations of foreign-born workers in America, and that is reflected very heavily in a lot of municipalities — more so in Middlesex,” he said. “Monmouth has lost Bell Labs and lost Fort Monmouth. Those were pretty big high-tech areas with a lot of foreign-born scientists.”

Hughes estimated that 21 to 22 percent of the state’s population was born outside the United States, higher than the national average of 13 percent.

He said while Monmouth has lost many tech jobs, Middlesex — which is home to several pharmaceutical companies and Rutgers University, and in close proximity to Princeton University — has seen a resurgence.

The population in Middlesex County was 809,000 in 2010 and estimated to be 828,000 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Monmouth County saw a population decrease from 630,000 in 2010 to an estimated 629,000 in 2013.

George Ververides, director of the Middlesex County Office of Planning, said communities such as Edison, Woodbridge and New Brunswick, which are close to major thoroughfares and mass transit, have seen the majority of the population growth in the county.

“A large part of our population is commuters, with the major employment area in New York City, and many of our people are taking advantage of areas because they are close to transportation,” he said.

According to Ververides, the growth has put a strain on infrastructure and has required an investment in roads, bridges and tunnels. He said an update to the aging bus and train systems is also needed.

Problems associated with population growth are not limited to transportation.

“The areas I think are going to be a challenge for us because of the increased population density is the need for water quantity, water quality, the need for affordable housing, and the other is energy,” Ververides said. “We have to start thinking about power and how we are going to start bringing in our gas lines and how we start bringing in our electrical lines.

“We have to compensate the growth with the needs.”

Looking at the 35-county metropolitan region that encompasses parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Hughes said more urban areas are seeing sharper increases in population.

“What we are seeing is a centralization of population,” he said. “It is caused by a lot of things. One principle for us is millennials prefer to live in high-density, 24-7 activity environments.

“They probably have suburban fatigue.”

Millennials include Americans born between 1980 and the mid 2000s. They make up the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the nation’s population in 2013, according to the federal Council of Economic Advisers.

Brooklyn, Manhattan, Hoboken and Jersey City have seen the largest growth, Hughes said.

The conditions of urban areas, including Red Bank and Long Branch, have improved drastically in recent decades, he said.

“In the ’70s, our urban areas were really in bad shape, even into the 1980s,” Hughes said. “There were dangers [in] the areas of high crime, and there really wasn’t much of an alternative.”

Laura Kirby, Monmouth County assistant planner, said younger people are flocking to Long Branch, Asbury Park and Red Bank for housing.

Between 2006 and 2010, approximately 53,000 people moved into Monmouth County, while 61,000 migrated out of the county, according to Kirby.

She said municipalities including Howell, Marlboro, Freehold and Manalapan have seen the largest growth, while smaller beach communities experienced slight declines in population, even before superstorm Sandy struck.

In Monmouth County, the most populated municipalities in 2010 were Middletown, Howell and Marlboro, according to census data. In Middlesex County, the most populated towns were Edison, Woodbridge and Old Bridge.

Ververides said a booming Asian-American population has led to Edison overtaking Woodbridge as the county’s most populated municipality.

While Middlesex County as a whole has seen Asian-American growth, Kirby said the Hispanic population is increasing rapidly in Monmouth County. In 2010, there were almost 61,000 Hispanics living in Monmouth County — a jump from the 38,000 living in the county in 2000.

Another factor leading to some demographic shifts is the maturing baby-boomer generation, according to Hughes.

“The baby-boom parents couldn’t wait to get out of Brooklyn, and millennials couldn’t wait to get back in,” he said. “A lot of outer suburban counties zoned out millennials. They have 5-acre zoning, 10-acre zoning.

“You can have that when you are in your 50s, but in your 20s you are looking for rental apartments,” Hughes added. “Millennials would rather have a walkable downtown, so you see places like Red Bank thriving.”

While the younger generation is drawn to urban areas, Hughes said they will eventually make their way back to the suburbs.

“Millennials are not going to be 20- somethings forever,” he said. “They can’t postpone middle age — eventually it is going to hit.

“Right now, it might be fun living in Hoboken and Jersey City. Where are they going to choose to live once they have urban fatigue?” he said.

In the short term, Hughes said he is keeping an eye on the impact of superstorm Sandy on working-class communities within Sayreville, Sea Bright and Keansburg.

“I think it will be normal for the affluent who are able to rebuild, who are able to raise their homes. That is going to business as usual,” he said. “For the working-class areas that were hit by Sandy, that’s a long rebuilding process.”