February 4, 2011 | Philly Daily News | Original Article

Latino population surge drove up N.J. census figures

New Jersey's Hispanic population increased dramatically over the last decade, surpassing African Americans to become, for the first time, the state's largest minority, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.

South Jersey had the greatest overall population growth between 2000 and 2010, with Gloucester County leading the way. The county had a 13.2 percent increase in residents during the period, followed by Ocean County, with a 12.8 percent increase.

The Garden State's total population edged up 4.5 percent, to 8,791,894. The nation's most densely populated state, which was among the first to receive 2010 census results, didn't keep pace with growth in the southern and western United States.

As a result, New Jersey will lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and its congressional delegation will shrink to 12 from 13.

New Jersey's population would have declined if not for the increase in Latinos. The number of Hispanics in the state rose 39.2 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The state's 1.5 million Hispanics make up 17.7 percent of the population, compared with 13.3 percent in 2000.

"What's happening in New Jersey is something that has occurred in several other states across the nation," said Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy research and advocacy for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"As New Jersey's leadership looks at public policies and issues, it needs to be more accountable to the Latino population," she said.

Latinos passed African Americans as the country's largest minority in July 2001, when they reached 37 million, up 4.7 percent from April 2000. During the same period, the black population increased 2 percent, to 36.1 million, according to the census.

In New Jersey, African Americans accounted for 12.8 percent of the population in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 2000, census figures show.

Over the last decade, the percentage of white non-Hispanics in New Jersey dropped to 59.3, down from 66 percent.

The changes took place as the population in South Jersey increased.

Growth in Gloucester County was spurred, in part, by a continuation of development that followed the completion of Route 55. The town with the biggest percent change since 2000 was Woolwich, which grew to 10,200 - an increase of 236 percent. East Greenwich's population grew 76 percent.

The number of people in Burlington County rose by 6 percent, though growth in Marlton, Mount Laurel, Medford, and towns near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was flat.

In Ocean County, the largest gain was in Lakewood Township, which grew 53.8 percent to almost 93,000 residents. Committeeman Albert Akerman attributed much of the increase to the region's burgeoning Orthodox Jewish community.

Many Orthodox men move to the area to attend Beth Medrash Govoha, a college of about 6,000 students, Akerman said. Rather than return home after graduation, a growing number now stay in the area, he said. Large families are common in the Orthodox community.

Other parts of South Jersey didn't have such dramatic growth. Camden County's population rose less than 1 percent, and Camden City's fell 3.2 percent. Cherry Hill's population increased 1.5 percent.

The new data will have an impact as the state redraws its legislative districts to reflect population shifts.

"The hard work now begins to create a new legislative map that mirrors how New Jersey actually looks," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said Thursday.

The districts must be redrawn in a way that "provides Latinos with an opportunity to gain fair representation. This is a trend we will see in state after state," Gold said.

In Camden, the census figures show that Latino residents, who constitute 47 percent of the population, outnumber African Americans, who make up 44.3 percent.

Camden County has the highest percentage of Latino residents in the region. In 2010, 13.1 percent of residents were Hispanic. African Americans accounted for 17.2 percent of the county's residents.

In Burlington County, 6.4 percent were Latino and 15.9 percent were black. In Gloucester County, 5 percent were Hispanic and 10.5 percent were black.

The state's five most populous cities and townships are Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, and Edison.

Locally, the largest are Camden (77,344 residents), Cherry Hill (71,045), and Gloucester Township (64,634).

New Jersey's largest county was Bergen, followed by Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, and Monmouth.