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An ongoing discussion about conservatism in New Jersey.
Some Facts About New Jersey
By Peter C. Hansen
(How to Cite)

New Jersey is a unique place.

At 8,685,920 people (2007 census), New Jersey has 1,134.5 people per square mile. (Id.) New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the Union. (World Atlas, using U.S. Census Bureau projections for 2006.) New Jersey is also more densely populated than any country in the world that is not effectively a city-state or an island, with the sole exceptions of Bangladesh and South Korea:

  Jurisdiction     Persons Per Square Mile  
Bangladesh2,595.74
South Korea1,273.50
New Jersey 1,134.5
Netherlands1,023.34
Japan873.42
India851.04
Israel782.72
Philippines758.50
Vietnam656.50
United Kingdom639.42
Pakistan523.26
Nigeria361.04
China352.54
France287.19
United States 79.55
Russia21.75

(Source:  World Atlas, using CIA Factbook and other public resources, as of February 2006.)

To put this in further perspective, while the average American has 8 acres all to himself or herself (at 640 acres to a square mile), the average New Jerseyan has 0.56 acre, one fourteenth as much. This proximity to neighbors colors many aspects of New Jersey society and culture. One small example is that New Jersey has the fourth-highest mean travel time to work in the nation (29.8 minutes), topped only by New York, Maryland and the District of Columbia, all of which have (or are) major cities with large, concentrated urban working populations. (U.S. Census, 2007.) New Jersey has two such centers, albeit external ones – New York City and Philadelphia. In the vast surburban sprawl and older urban centers, however, intra-state traffic can prove a major issue as well.

As can be expected from such crowding, housing poses major issues in New Jersey:

  Housing Factors     National Rank (1=top)     Figure or Percent     National Average  
Median Value of Houses4 $372,300$194,300
Monthly Cost with Mortgage2 $2,278$1,464
Paying >30% in Mortgage 4 46.1%37.5%
Monthly Cost of Renting3 $1,026$789
Paying >30% in Rent & Utilities 3 48.5%45.6%
Owner-Occupied Units39 67.3%67.2%
Mobile Homes49 1%6.7%

(Source:  U.S. Census, 2007.)

The average New Jerseyan has to pay $178,000 (i.e. 92%) more than the average American for a house. Per month, that comes to an $814 (56%) higher payment, and annually this means paying $9,768 more than the average American. Not surprisingly, nearly half of New Jersey homeowners pay an inordinate share of their income on their houses, with 8.6% more of New Jersey homeowners squeezed on housing than the national average. Renting is no better, however. An even higher percentage of renters pay more than 30% on rent and utilities, shelling out $237 (30%) more per month than the average American. This comes to $2,844 per year in higher rental costs.

New Jersey house prices come in just behind Hawaii, California and the District of Columbia, all of which have severe natural or regulatory limits on building. (U.S. Census, 2007.) Only in California, however, are housing costs with mortgages higher (at $2,314), and only in California and Hawaii are monthly rental costs higher (at $1,078 and $1,194, respectively). (Id.) It is only in California, Nevada and Florida where a greater percentage of owners have had to spend more than 30% of their income on their homes, and these three states have now been crushed by the housing bust. (Id.) As for the number of renters paying more than 30% of their income, only the now-slammed Florida and California rank higher. (Id.)

In this context, it may be noted without surprise that only 15.6% of the Garden State's land remained farmland in 2007, a drop from 18.2% in 1997. (USDA, as of March 27, 2009.) Of the 733,450 acres of total farmland existing in 2007, only 5,976 acres were in conservation or wetland-reserve programs (although this is in fact a 223% increase since 1997, when it stood at 2,671 acres). (Id.) The state's 9,800 farms, averaging only 71 acres in size, are heavily (40.4%) tilted toward greenhouse and nursery products, and produced a net income of over $312 million in 2007. (Id.) Unsurprisingly, the top five agricultural counties in New Jersey border or fall in the southern half of the state, away from the densely populated commuter corridor between New York and Philadelphia (i.e. Cumberland, Atlantic, Monmouth, Gloucester and Burlington Counties). (Id.)

In addition to dealing with extremely high land prices, New Jerseyans are also the most taxed people in the country per capita, and receive the least back from Washington in federal spending:

  Tax Factors     National Rank (1=top)     Figure or Percent     National Average  
State and Local Tax Burden1 11.8%9.7%
Amount Paid Per Capita2 $6,610$4,283
Amount Paid Within State3 $4,376$2,924
Amount to Other States2 $2,234$1,358
Amount from Non-Residents12 $1,752$1,370
All State Tax Collected7 $29.49 billionN/A
Residents' Total Tax in StateN/A $38 billion  (pop. 8,682,661)
(Fed. Tax v. Fed. Money to NJ)50 61¢ receivedper $1 sent

(Sources:  Tax Foundation, Special Report, August 2008, pp. 2-4, and Facts on New Jersey Tax Climate; U.S. Census, 2008; Id. (for NJ population estimate as of July 1, 2008).)

Compared to the average American, the average New Jerseyan pays state and local authorities $1,452 (33.9%) more per year, and $876 (64.5%) more to other states, for a total extra state and local tax bill of $2,327 (54.3%). The only state that pays a greater absolute tax amount per capita is Connecticut ($7,007), but Connecticut residents make significantly more money than New Jerseyans ($63,160 to $56,116 in 2008), so that their tax burden is only 11.1%. (Tax Foundation, Special Report, August 2008, p. 4.) New York for its part presents an interesting case where relatively higher in-state tax burdens are outweighed by residents' paying much less tax to other states:

  Tax Factors     NJ National Rank     New Jersey  
  Figure  
  NY National Rank     New York  
  Figure  
Average Income (2008)3 $56,1164 $55,032
Per Capita Resident Tax3 $4,3761 $4,845
P.C. Paid to Other States2 $2,23411 $1,573
Total of These Taxes3 $6,6104 $6,418
Percentage of Income1 11.8%2 11.7%
Income Less These TaxesN/A $49,506N/A $48,614

(Sources:  Tax Foundation, Special Report, August 2008, pp. 4, 9.)

New Yorkers pay $661 (42%) less per capita to other states than do New Jerseyans. New Yorkers also receive $609 (34.8%) per capita more from other states. (Tax Foundation, Special Report, August 2008, p. 9.) Unlike the income-exporting New Jersey, New York significantly reduces the tax burden on its residents by being a net importer of tax receipts. This inflow pays for state services for New Yorkers and acts as a subsidy equivalent to an extra 1.4% of income. (By contrast, the average New Jerseyan has to pay 0.9% of his or her income to cover tax lost to another state, on top of New Jersey state and local taxes.) The effect of New York's tax-receipt importing nearly wipes out the income gap between the states, leaving New Jerseyans with only a $283 (0.6%) post-tax advantage:

  Tax Factors     NJ National Rank     New Jersey  
  Figure  
  NY National Rank     New York  
  Figure  
Average Income (2008)3 $56,1164 $55,032
Tax from Non-Residents12 $1,7524 $2,361
P.C. Paid to Other States2 $2,23411 $1,573
P.C. Net Gain/Loss of Tax (0.9%) ($482) 1.4% $788
Income Less Gain/LossN/A $55,634N/A $55,820
Per Capita Resident Tax3 $4,3761 $4,845
Offset Post-Tax Income N/A $51,258 N/A $50,975

(Source:  Tax Foundation, Special Report, August 2008, pp. 4, 9.)

It should be noted that the extra "income" provided by out-of-state taxpayers is not disposable by individuals, but by the government for its own purposes. It is essentially a windfall that allows the state to avoid asking its residents to pay for higher spending. For average homeowners, who do not receive this subsidy as actual cash, the slight remaining "offset income" advantage over New York homeowners is removed by the difference in housing costs with mortgages. New Jersey homeowners wind up with about $130 (0.27%) less "offset income" (i.e. as subsidized by the taxes of out-of-staters) than their New York counterparts, who pay $469 more in taxes to their state:

  Housing and Taxes     New Jersey     New York  
Offset Post-Tax Income (2008) $51,258 $50,975
Median Housing Costs with Mortgage (2007) $2,278 $1,865
Homeowner's Offset Remaining Income $48,980 $49,110

(Sources:  U.S. Census, 2007; Above table. The above table mixes years given the availability of data. While the "offset remaining income" figures are thus only approximative, their difference should still be correct if absolute 2007-08 property-price changes between the states are the same.)

In large part, New Jersey taxes go to pay for state and local government employees. New Jersey state and local governments filled 513,111 full-time equivalent jobs in 2007 (472,019 full-time and 118,036 part-time), with monthly pay coming to $2.5 billion (i.e. $30 billion a year). (U.S. Census, 2007, revised January 2009.) The New Jersey public service is 9.3% larger than the national average in relation to the population (i.e. 5.9% versus 5.4% of the population). If New Jersey had a public service of average size, it would have 45,872 fewer full-time employees:

  Public Employment     Employed Full Time     Total Population     Percent of Population  
United States (all)16,453,570 301,290,3325.4%
New Jersey513,111 8,653,1265.9%
NJ if at U.S. average467,269 8,653,1265.4%
Difference from average 45,842 8,653,126 0.5%

(Sources:  U.S. Census, 2007, revised January 2009; Id. (for NJ); Id. (for population estimates as of July 1, 2007).)

One reason for the existence of this outsized civil service is New Jersey's highly fragmented public system. New Jersey, the fifth smallest state at 7,417 square miles (U.S. Census, 2007), is split into 21 counties as well as 566 municipalities that can be categorized under five headings (borough, township, city, town and village). (NJ State League of Municipalities.) Each of these municipalities can have one of twelve possible forms of government. These include the five historical types corresponding to the municipality types (e.g. borough), as well as seven "optional" forms that can be adopted instead (i.e. commission, Council-Manager Act of 1923, four different Optional Municipal Charter Law or "OMCL" forms, and special charters). (Id.) All of these muncipalities and counties must be staffed to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the services they provide.

New Jersey government employees are far more expensive than the national average. Each month, New Jerseyans pay $987.83 (25%) more for each public servant than do average Americans. Annually, New Jersey pays $11,853.96 more per public servant than the national average, which comes to just over $6 billion per year in costs over and above what average Americans would pay for the same-sized public service. If New Jersey's public service were resized to the national average, or its costs brought down to the national average, or both, the savings could reach over $8.22 billion per year (with both reductions made):

  Public Employment     Employed Full Time     Total Monthly Cost     Per Capita Cost  
United States (all)16,453,570 $64,156,489,693$3,899.24
New Jersey513,111 $2,507,613,397$4,887.07
NJ if at U.S. average size467,269 $2,283,576,312$4,887.07
Difference in monthly cost 467,269 $224,037,085 $4,887.07
NJ if at U.S. average cost513,111 $2,000,742,936$3,899.24
Difference in monthly cost 513,111 $506,870,461 $3,899.24
NJ at average size and cost467,269 $1,821,993,976$3,899.24
Difference in monthly cost 467,269 $685,619,421 $3,899.24

(Sources:  U.S. Census, 2007, revised January 2009; Id. (for NJ).)

The national average annual cost of a civil servant ($46,670.88) would not be an unrealistic drop in pay, as it would be only slightly (5.1%) less than the New Jersey average per capita income of $49,194 (as of 2007). Even if civil-service pay were brought down just to the New Jersey average income, it would represent an annual savings per civil servant of $9,450.84 (19.2%), as well as an overall annual savings of over $4.8 billion for the existing civil service, and $7.1 billion for a public service at the national average size:

  Public Employment     Employed Full Time     Total Monthly Cost     Per Capita Cost  
New Jersey (current)513,111 $2,507,613,397$4,887.07
Cost at NJ Average Income513,111 $2,103,498,545$4,099.50
Difference in monthly cost 513,111 $404,114,852 $4,099.50
Cost at NJ avr., Size at nat'l avr.467,269 $1,915,569,266$4,099.50
Difference in monthly cost 467,269 $592,044,131 $4,099.50

(Source:  U.S. Census, 2007 (NJ income data); Above-stated NJ civil service pay data.)

The relatively higher cost of civil servants can be attributed partly to the fact that New Jerseysans in general have far higher nominal incomes than the national average. Indeed, in 2007, New Jersey ranked second in the nation (after Connecticut) in per capita income, and $10,583 (27.4%) above the national average. This makes individual New Jersey civil servants somewhat cheap relative to nominal income:

  Jurisdiction     Per Capita Income     Higher     Annual Civil Servant Pay     Higher  
New Jersey$49,194 27.4%$58,644.84 25%
United States (all)$38,611  $46,670.88 

(Source:  U.S. Census, 2007 (NJ income data); Above-stated NJ civil service pay data.)

This relative individual bargain (i.e. New Jersey civil servants being paid 19.2% ($9,450.84) rather than 20.8% above average income) is more than offset by the much larger size of New Jersey's civil service relative to population. Given the sheer number of civil servants, the average New Jerseyan annually pays $928.79 (36.4%) more for the state and local civil service than does the average American:

  Jurisdiction     C. Servants     Cost Burden     Population     Per Capita Cost  
New Jersey513,111  $30,091,312,497  8,653,126  $3,477.51 
United States (all)16,453,570  $767,902,591,042  301,290,332  $2,548.72 

(Sources:  Above-stated pay and population data.)

Selecting as comparator the average New Jersey homeowner (who represents roughly two-thirds of New Jersey's populace, see above), it is revealed that New Jersey's extra tax and housing burdens (coming to 24.6% of nominal income) bring the homeowner's real income to $1,512 (4.1%) below the national average:

  Adjusted Income     NJ Homeowner     United States Average  
Per Capita Income (2007) $49,194 $38,611
Added Tax Burden $2,327  
Added Housing Cost with Mortgage $9,768  
Total Adjustments ($12,095)  
Adjusted Income (2007) $37,099 $38,611

(Sources:  Above-listed data and figures for 2007.)

Demographically, New Jersey has several salient features beyond the aspects discussed above. New Jerseyans are relatively well-educated, despite the state's middling rank for high school drop-outs. New Jerseyans have much higher rates of holding bachelor's degrees (23.3%) and advanced degrees (25.7%) than the national average. New Jersey scores quite well on poverty rankings, its overall poverty rate being 33.8% lower than the national average. (This is this despite some less-than-stellar rankings, e.g. the over-65 poverty rate and cash-assisted households.) Surprisingly, New Jersey, despite having military installations for every service branch but the Marines (most notably Fort Dix), has nearly the lowest percentage of veterans in the country, after only DC and New York, and 25.7% below the national average:

  Social Factors     National Rank (1=top)     Figure or Percent     National Average  
Hold Advanced Degree8 12.7%10.1%
Hold Bachelor's Degree6 33.9%27.5%
Hold High School Diploma26 87.0%84.5%
Overall Poverty Rate47 8.6%13.0%
Child Poverty Rate44 11.6%18.0%
Over-65 Poverty Rate29 8.4%9.5%
Cash-Assisted Households32 1.9%2.1%
Number of Veterans49 7.5%10.1%

(Source:  U.S. Census, 2007.)

New Jersey's population is highly diverse and often recently arrived. New Jersey's rate of foreign-born residents is 57.9% higher than the national average, coming in after only New York and California. Compared to rates in the rest of the country, 41.1% more people speak a language other than English at home. Similarly, 33.3% more don't speak English "very well." Mexicans account for relatively few immigrants to New Jersey, the national average rate being 4.6 times greater. Immigrants come from other states as well as from other countries. Of all New Jersey residents, only 52.4% were born in the state. At the same time, however, New Jersey is a popular place to raise children. Wherever they may come from originally, New Jerseyans come in at fourth-highest for households consisting of married couples with their own children:

  Social Factors (cont.)     National Rank (1=top)     Figure or Percent     National Average  
Married with Children4 24.5%21.4%
Foreign-Born Residents3 19.9%12.6%
Foreign-Born Are Mexican39 6.7%30.8%
Another Language at Home6 27.8%19.7%
Speak Spanish at Home8 13.9%12.3%
English Not "Very Good"7 11.6%8.7%
US Natives Born in State26 65.4%67.4%
Non-Hispanic Whites39 61.9%65.8%

(Source:  U.S. Census, 2007.)

Much more could be said about New Jersey. It is an old and enormously interesting state, with lots of local flavor interspersed with world-famous historical sites. The Garden State is in some respects the country (indeed, the world) in miniature. In other ways, however, it possesses its own fascinating and unique identity. Its residents, arriving from the far corners of the world and crammed together, are overtaxed, highly domestic and overflowing with cultural traits both imported and home-grown. Educated, possessed of a rich state culture, yet regionally distinct even among themselves, New Jerseyans defy ready categorization both in-state and nationally.

It is in this context that any discussion of "New Jersey" conservatism must be conducted. How this conversation can best be undertaken, let alone how any workable definition can be reached, are topics that fall well outside the scope of this article. For the present, it is enough simply to recognize the unique milieu in which such an effort is to be conducted and evaluated.


This article may be cited as follows:

Peter C. Hansen, "Some Facts About New Jersey," JerseyConservative.com (posted April 15, 2009).