Down for the Count: Exploring Census Results from One NJ County | Opinion
By Albert B. Kelly
With everything going on these days, the wildfires in the west, COVID-19 and , and watching us leave the mess in Afghanistan, you might not have had time to think about the census of 2020. The census was just one of those things we did every 10 years, but then it got complicated and took off.
But despite all that, the count has moved on and we’re starting to take a look at our numbers. Given the fear and rhetoric that surrounded the 2020 census, in addition to the pandemic, I imagine we need to allow for a wider margin of error. It’s unfortunate because so much – from safety net programs such as housing, food and medicine, to federal funding for highways, tuition assistance and rural assistance – is tied to this what the census tells us.
When it comes to Black and Latina populations, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. The first is that these populations may have been underestimated. It may be another two years before the US Census Bureau sifts through the numbers enough to make its adjustments. But even with a larger-than-ever undercount of historically undercounted populations, it’s hard to miss that our country is diversifying. Diversity may remain unclear, as many census respondents simply did not tick a box for race.
On April 1, 2020, which is Census Day for tabulation purposes, our country’s population grew only 7.4% from 10 years earlier. This represents the slowest growth rate we have seen since the 1930s. The growth rate is about the same in my community of Bridgeton, which had a population of 27,263 on census day. In other cities in Cumberland County, Millville came in at 27,491 and Vineland at 60,780. These numbers represent negligible changes over 10 years.
Along with our Hispanic/Latino population which has increased by 48.2% since 2010 – it’s now 60% of Bridgeton’s residents – the city is getting younger. Based on estimated 2019 data, 29.6% of our residents are under the age of 18. This contrasts with the overall national trend that shows the percentage of US residents age 65 and older is growing at the fastest rate in our history. The question will be how to allocate the resources.
Supports for our young families are needed locally as we struggle with a poverty rate of 31.2% in 2019, with a median household income of $37,804. That compares to a Cumberland County household median of $54,149. So we have a lot on our plate in terms of increasing incomes and living standards. The only way to do this is to increase the number of jobs available in the area, which is difficult in a changing economy where more and more retail is done online.
Based on 2020 census figures, Cumberland County overall lost 1.8% of its 2010 population. This appears to be the trend in terms of counties nationwide, despite urban and suburban growth. More than half of the 3,143 U.S. counties have seen a net population loss since the last census in 2010.
A big issue for those who pay attention to elections is redistribution, which starts with which states will get seats in the House of Representatives and which states will lose them. Initial Census Bureau numbers show New Jersey will stay the same with 12 House seats, but California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will each lose one seat. Texas will win two seats, while Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each win one. In case anyone forgot their social studies class, this also impacts the number of presidential electoral votes each state receives. The formula is his total House seats, plus two votes for his two U.S. senators.
The next two years will be about digesting our numbers and better understanding where we are, where we have been and where we are going. This will include our needs, our aspirations and our tendencies – all of us 331,449,281, and that’s no small thing.
Albert B. Kelly is mayor of Bridgeton. Contact him by phone at 856-455-3230 Ext. 200.
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