New Rutgers Regional Report compares population shifts following major economic changes

September 29, 2014

Twelve of 27 suburban counties – over 44 percent – lost population post-Great Recession, while regional core experiences strong increase

A new Rutgers Regional Report, “The Receding Metropolitan Perimeter: A New Postsuburban Demographic Normal,” authored by James W. Hughes, dean of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and Joseph J. Seneca, university professor and economist at the Bloustein School, documents population shifts occurring in a four-state metropolitan region encompassing 35 counties in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The report traces population changes for two time periods: 1950 to 1980, reflecting the nation’s unprecedented postwar suburbanization, and 2010 to 2013, for the recovery period to date from aftershocks of the Great 2007-2009 Recession. The decades between the two time periods analyzed – the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s – are also examined for the influence of overall regional growth, age-structure variations and immigration levels on population change.

Twenty-seven of the suburban-ring counties in the four states witnessed explosive growth in the 30-year period from 1950 to 1980, gaining more than 5.3 million residents, and nearly doubling their population. By contrast, the regional core of eight urban counties in New York and New Jersey contracted sharply during the same period, losing nearly a million people.

Then, during the 2010–2013 period, the trend reversed: the regional core grew at a rate more than double that of the suburban ring, adding 85,284 persons per year. The regional core accounted for most of the total population growth, a phenomenon unparalleled since World War II. All of the suburban counties with population losses were on the metropolitan outer ring with the exception of Monmouth County, which suffered impacts from Superstorm Sandy.

The authors insistently caution that this shift in population growth is not necessarily a long-term change since the latest time period is so limited. However, the data suggest a change of the crest of the wave nature indicating that the multidecade pattern of further growth on the perimeter of the region out has shifted.

The report also discusses the influence of young adults’ locational preferences for urban lifestyle and workplace choices post-2000 as one contributing factor to these shifting population patterns.

These demographic and population shifts are discussed in depth in the authors’ new book, New Jersey’s Postsuburban Economy, to be published by Rutgers University Press in October. More information about the book may be found at

The complete Rutgers Regional Report may be found at:


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