NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Over the past ten years, New Brunswick didn’t grow as fast as its neighbors or Middlesex County as a whole, despite a slew of significant construction projects that built new housing units.
The 2020 data released by the United States Census Bureau showed just 85 more Hub City residents than the city had on record in 2010, when New Brunswick’s population number was 55,181.
The bureau also revealed that the percentage of the city’s housing units that are vacant nearly doubled since 2010, increasing from 6.2% to 12.1%.
The US Constitution requires a nationwide population count every ten years, and the data is used as part of a complex process to determine the boundaries of state and federal election districts for the next decade of legislative elections.
After many months crunching the 2020 numbers, the government finally released the data for all 565 municipalities in New Jersey on August 12, 2021.
New Brunswick is now at 55,266 residents, falling five spots to the 32nd most populated in the state, surpassed by Irvington, Hoboken, Jackson, Parsippany-Troy Hills, and Perth Amboy.
Perth Amboy actually passed New Brunswick as the most populous “city” in Middlesex County, but many suburban communities have larger populations than the two urban centers.
The Hub City is still the most populated Brunswick, followed by East Brunswick with 49,715, South Brunswick with 47,043, and North Brunswick with 43,905.
But New Brunswick’s growth rate was a mere 0.15%. By comparison, New Brunswick’s largely suburban neighbor Franklin Township saw its population climb from 62,300 to 68,364 over the decade, a growth rate of 8.87%.
In Central New Jersey, other urban centers grew their population much faster than New Brunswick: Bound Brook (13.23%), Carteret (10.66%), Plainfield (8.75%), and Perth Amboy (8.34%).
Fast-growing Lakewood leapfrogged two Middlesex County suburbs to become New Jersey’s fifth largest community by population, according to the data. The Ocean County suburb that has become a favorite for the Orthodox Jewish community saw its population numbers jump more than 31%, from 92,843 in 2010 to 135,158 in 2020.
The low growth figure here in New Brunswick surprised many observers, considering that well over 1,000 new apartments came on the market since the last census was conducted.
According to the data, the city added 1,268 housing units, but there were 1,188 more vacant housing units, making for a total of 2,122 vacant units. Ten years earlier, there were only 934 vacant units.
As we reported, there has also been an increase in the number of people living in the streets, even as many of the new apartments and the city’s ample stock of hotel rooms sit empty. Some homeless gather together under railroad bridges, while others quietly seek shelter in the unoccupied houses they refer to as “abandos.”
New Brunswick consists of 11 “census tracts,” six of which grew in population since 2010 while the other five dwindled.
While pricey buildings with names like the 393-unit “The Quincy” and the 238-unit “The Aspire” came online, other parts of the city lost housing units to fires, dilapidation, foreclosures, and the wrecking ball of “redevelopment.”
Three other projects championed by the controversial New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), “The Vue,” “The George,” and “Premiere Residences, ” added another 503 housing units to the downtown area, but it is unclear how many of the apartments have actually been rented.
“When cities lose momentum, they don’t just stay stagnant, they fall backwards,” Devco President Chris Paladino told NJTV News in 2017.
Devco also built housing for nearly 1,000 students on the campus of Rutgers University as part of an overhaul of the College Avenue campus that removed the beloved “grease trucks” from their longtime home and consolidated the campus of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary into a new building.
The Census tries to count every resident where they are living as of April 1, 2020, including those who have no housing, are not citizens, or are here to attend college.
Officials attempted to ignore irregularities caused by the March 2020 closure of the Rutgers campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus all “on-campus” dormitory students were counted as New Brunswick residents, even though the buildings closed abruptly prior to the official day of the count.
Unlike other states, there is no one city that hosts the bulk of New Jersey’s population, with several urban centers spread across different counties and many suburbs that have in some cases grown larger than the cities.
Newark remains the state’s most populous city, with 311,549 residents, followed by Jersey City (292,449), Paterson (159,732), and Elizabeth (137,298). The most densely-populated communities are Union City, Guttenberg, West New York, and Hoboken.
New Brunswick is now the 35th densest community, with 55,266 residents squeezed onto the city’s footprint of just 5.75 square miles, a rate of 9,605 residents per square mile. That figure puts the Hub City’s density on par with places like Bloomfield, Bergenfield, Asbury Park, and Perth Amboy.
While New Brunswick has never before had this many residents in an official US Census count, the increase of just 85 residents marks the smallest fluctuation in population during any ten-year period since at least 1860, when the city had just 11,256 residents.
Since then, the biggest booms in population came during 1860-1870, when the number grew by 25.25%, and 1910-1920, when it grew by 28.65%.
During the same time period, there were two decades where the city lost residents: 1930-1940, when the city population fell by 4.14%, and 1970-1980, when it dropped by 1.07%.
Demographic data collected in the latest Census showed Middlesex County as having the tenth-highest Asian population in the United States, second only to Queens, New York on the East Coast.
While the county gained population at a rate of 6.6% over the decade, it lost its spot as second most populated in New Jersey, after being edged out by Essex and still trailing Bergen, the most populated county in the state.
Edison and Woodbridge followed Lakewood in the overall population statistics, with 107,588 and 103,639 residents respectively, making them sixth and seventh most populated communities in the state.
Among Middlesex’s twenty-five municipalities, Edison and Woodbridge are the most populated, followed by Old Bridge (66,876), Piscataway (60,804), Perth Amboy (55,436) and New Brunswick (55,266).
In Middlesex County, 41.9% of the population identified as White, while 26.5% identified as Asian, 22.5% identified as Hispanic or Latino, and 9.8% identified as Black.
Middlesex County’s Monroe Township is physically its largest municipality, at more than 42 square miles, and it was also one of New Jersey’s fastest-growing communities since the last census, with a population increase from 39,132 to 48,594, and a growth rate of 19.5%. Throughout Central Jersey, only Englishtown grew at a faster pace.
The county’s tiniest town was its second-fastest growing: Helmetta jumped from 2,178 residents, all packed into less a square mile, to 2,455 residents, a growth rate of 11.18%
Only three Middlesex County communities shrunk in population over the past ten years: Cranbury, Spotswood, and Jamesburg. Combined they lost 241 residents.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.