TRENTON – New Jersey’s population grew far faster than expected during the last decade, helping the state maintain its 12 seats in the House of Representatives for the 2020s, according to initial Census 2020 results announced Monday.

The state had 9,288,994 residents in April 2020, according to the Census Bureau. The increase of 5.7% was the state’s second largest gain since the 1970s, trailing only the 2000s decade.

It was far greater than what the Census Bureau had been projecting. The state’s mid-2020 population had been estimated at 8,882,371, a gain over the prior 10 years of 90,477, or 1%. Growth turned out to be 5.5 times faster, totaling 497,100.

The result could challenge the conventional wisdom that people are fleeing New Jersey.

“I think it does,” said Rider University political scientist Micah Rasmussen. “I think it shows that New Jersey is back – or maybe we were here all along. That people don’t just make their decisions on where to live based on price or based on taxes or based on the expensive barrier to move here. All the things that have made New Jersey historically such a draw still apply.”

New Jersey has the nation’s highest average property tax bill, more than $9,100, and among the nation’s highest overall costs.

“That has definitely been an experience for some people. It’s not that they’ve imagined that,” Rasmussen said. “But clearly while that was all going on, in other parts of the state – and we’re going to find out where, when we get the town-level data – but clearly in other parts of the state, that was not the story that was going on. At the same time, we were picking up tremendous numbers of people.”

The political consulting firm Election Data Services had projected based on 2020 population estimates that New Jersey’s 12th House seat would be the 429th awarded by the apportionment formula.

That put the state at moderate risk of losing a seat if the count was low or, especially, if unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the formula, as then-President Donald Trump had been seeking. Its cushion was less than 168,500 seats, according to the last round of estimates.

Instead, the state’s 12th seat based on the actual count was the 412th awarded, and the state was a comfortable 528,346 residents away from losing a seat. The state was far closer to recovering the 13th seat it lost in 2010, though still 235,346 residents away. Its next seat would have been the 445th, if the House was that large.

“All this time, we thought that we were on the brink of potentially losing a seat. We were actually on the bubble for gaining a congressional seat,” Rasmussen said. “And it’s something not a lot of people knew or paid any attention to.”

Peter Chen, policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said it’s hard to say exactly where New Jersey gained population because smaller-level geography data won’t be available to states until mid-August.

“I don’t think it was a huge surprise, but it’s certainly a relief,” Chen said of the results. “We’re pleased that the apportionment count has remained the same.”

New Jersey’s House delegation peaked at 15 members, but the state lost seats after the 1980, 1990 and 2010 censuses. Neighbors in the Northeast and Midwest continued to shed seats in this census, such as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

“I think that’s a trend that’s been ongoing. I think the last time New Jersey gained a congressional seat was the 1960 census. So, it’s been a while.”

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The national population reached 331,449,281. The increase of 7.4% was the second slowest in history, with the growth rate smaller only in the 1930s. The shift of seven House seats was the fewest in history.

The Northeast region grew 4.1%, which was smaller than the nation as a whole. But the region was the only one to register faster growth than it had in the previous decade.

The census results even recast the analysis of the coronavirus toll in New Jersey. The death rate in New Jersey in 2020 was 1,029 per 100,000 residents, rather than 1,076 per 100,000 residents, as it appeared based off now-outdated estimates.

The 25,399 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths recorded to date amount to one of every 366 residents, rather than one of every 350.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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