TRENTON – Redevelopment in once-shrinking urban areas near New York City, along with astonishing growth in Lakewood, powered New Jersey’s unexpected population gains over the last decade, results of the 2020 Census released Thursday show.

Hudson County grew by more than 14%, an increase of 90,588 people that swelled the population to a record of nearly 725,000. Its previous high had been in 1930 at nearly 691,000, before bottoming out at 553,000 in 1990.

Other northeastern counties also grew notably. Essex County’s population increased by nearly 80,000, up 10% and edging Middlesex County to become the state’s second most-populous county. Bergen County added more than 50,000 residents, while Union County added 39,000. Passaic County grew by almost 23,000 residents, moving it slightly ahead of Camden County as the state’s eighth-largest.

“This really has been the decade of redevelopment and the decade of new growth in the state’s older centers, many of which had been stagnating since the 1950s,” said Tim Evans, director of research at New Jersey Future.

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County population change from 2010 to 2020. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)
County population change from 2010 to 2020. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)

Evans said people, in particular millennials, have long expressed a desire to live in places where they have access to homes, jobs, shopping and entertainment without needing a car for every trip.

He said the roughly half of municipalities that were at least 90% built out by 2007 accounted for 65% of population growth in the 2010s, up from 14% in the 2000s.

“You’re seeing a new wave of growth in a lot of places that had their original growth spurts 50 or 60 years ago or longer,” Evans said. “Actually, some of them lost population starting in the 1950s – so, going back to pre-World War II, you have to go back that far to find the last time a lot of these places experienced a lot of new people moving in.”

Ocean County’s population now exceeds 637,000, more than tripling in the last 50 years. The 60,662 added in the last decade include 42,315 in Lakewood alone, as that township grew more than 45% in 10 years to become the state’s fifth-largest municipality with 135,158 residents.

Newark remains the largest city with 311,549 residents, a gain of more than 34,000 that has its population at its highest point since the 1980s. Jersey City added nearly 45,000 people, the most in the state, pushing its count to 292,449, a level last seen in the 1950s.

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Five counties lost population in the 2010s, led by Sussex County, which was down 3.4%, about 5,000 people.

The southernmost counties – Cape May, Cumberland and Salem – were down around 2% each, a combined 6,000 people. Atlantic County was basically level, recording a reduction of 15 people, while Sussex’s more rural neighbors of Hunterdon and Warren counties notched less than 1% growth.

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