When Superstorm Sandy struck the Garden State in 2012, both Monmouth and Ocean Counties sustained heavy damage.

Since then, the population of Monmouth has been trending downward, while the Ocean County population has continued to climb.

So what’s going on here?

According to Rutgers University economist James Hughes, Ocean County has been somewhat unique over the past few decades.

“It’s been the destination of a lot of retirees because of affordability and developers building a number of retirement communities," Hughes said.

He said for many years land in Ocean County has been cheaper than Monmouth, in part because Monmouth is closer to New York City and the job growth zone along Route 287.

In addition, Route 195 has provided accessibility to Trenton and the Princeton area, he said.

"And then you have the very, very strong Jewish community in Lakewood, and Lakewood is one of the fastest growing municipalities of New Jersey," Hughes said.

Monmouth County isn't just more expensive for seniors — it's more expensive for everyone.

“It’s been negatively impacted by the decline of McMansions," Hughes said. "You’ve had a lot of those high-end houses built in western Monmouth county.”

He said another reason for the population dip in Monmouth over the past six years has been the difficulty of rebuilding certain communities after Sandy slammed the coast.

“In some areas the residents were certainly not affluent and may have a very difficult time meeting the new standards for post-Sandy construction in those areas," he said.

Hughes expects the population in Ocean County to continue to grow.

“It’s advantage going forward is its affordability as well as accessibility. Monmouth is a very expensive area," he said.

According to a recent report by Hughes and economist Joe Seneca, "The Burbs Bounce Back: Trendlet or Dead Cat Bounce?" Monmouth County has been losing on average 644 residents a year, while Ocean has been increasing by 2,554 residents year between 2010 and 2016.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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