district profile
Newark-Union Metro Division

Essex, Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex, Union and Pike (PA) Counties

These six counties form the Newark-Union metropolitan division of the broader New York metropolitan area.  This metropolitan division  comprises a large area of northern New Jersey, including two counties (Sussex and Hunterdon) that border Pennsylvania, along with the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania (Pike County, PA, is not part of the Second Federal Reserve District).  This region has a population of just over 2.1 million, based on the 2010 Census.  More than 97 percent of its population and economy is in the New Jersey portion of this metro division.  The metro area’s population grew by just under 2½ percent over the last decade, compared with 4½ percent for New Jersey overall and nearly 10 percent nationwide. 

This region’s population is significantly more affluent and well-educated than the national average—and slightly more so than New Jersey as a whole. However, there is a good deal of variation, with pockets of poverty persisting in some of the large cities. The pharmaceuticals and communications industries have a significant presence in most of these counties. In addition, Essex and Union counties have a high concentration of transportation industries, due to their geographic transportation advantages (proximity to a major shipping port, airport and highways).  After rising only marginally during the last expansion (2002-07), employment in this area fell by roughly 8 percent during the 2008-09 downturn—more sharply than either statewide or nationwide.  Even as employment in the broader New York metro area, as well as the nation, began to recover in 2010, it continued to drift down in this area, bottoming out in mid-2011 at a 14-year low.  Home prices in this area more than doubled during the 2000-06 housing boom but fell by roughly a third between mid-2006 and early-2012.1

Recent Trends

Employment has rebounded slowly since its trough in 2011. As of the end of 2013, employment has reversed about a third of the net loss during the downturn.  Much of the recent job creation has been concentrated in education & health services, leisure & hospitality and retail trade.  Construction employment rose briskly in early 2013, possibly driven in part by rebuilding after Sandy.  In 2013, manufacturing employment rose for the first time in decades.  Home prices have rebounded only modestly, having rebounded about 10% from their lows. 

Because there is wide variation and diversity across the counties in this area, more detailed, individual profiles of its five New Jersey counties follow. 

Essex County

This overwhelmingly urban county includes the city of Newark and is New Jersey’s second most densely populated county (after Hudson).  Although its population declined slightly between 2000 and 2010, it is still the most populous county within this metropolitan division, with more than 780,000 residents, and it is the third most populous in New Jersey.  Median household income was $54,000 in 2009, and just under a third of adults hold college degrees; both these figures are above the U.S. levels but somewhat lower than for New Jersey as a whole. Even within the county, there is a good deal of dispersion on both income and education: Essex County includes some of the state’s most affluent (suburban) communities, but also the cities of Newark and Orange, where both educational attainment and median income are well below nationwide levels.

As is the case across most of northern New Jersey, the median home price in Essex County (just over $400,000, as of 2009) is more than twice as high as nationally.  However, the rate of homeownership is relatively low: just 46 percent of housing units are owner-occupied. 

Two key industry sectors dominating the local economy are air transportation and insurance.  Newark Airport and Port Newark-Elizabeth form a major transportation and distribution hub for the New York-New Jersey region. Air transportation accounts for 6 percent of county employment, compared with less than ½ percent nationally.  Newark has also long been a center of the insurance industry, led by Prudential, which is headquartered there.

Morris County

This county includes the city of Morristown, but otherwise can best be characterized as largely suburban in nature. Its population increased by nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2010—slightly exceeding statewide population growth—reaching 492,000, based on the 2010 Census.  Though less urban than neighboring Essex and Union Counties, Morris County has a sizable industry base.  There is a high concentration of corporate headquarters, making management of companies a major industry sector; other key industries in the county include pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, insurance, data processing and scientific and technical services.

Evidently reflecting the county’s preponderance of high-tech and managerial jobs, median household income, estimated at $97,000 in 2009, is nearly double the nationwide figure and more than 40 percent above the statewide figure. Similarly, an extraordinary 48 percent of adults are college graduates. Morris County also has a somewhat unusual demographic mix: a well above average 9 percent of residents are Asian, but a below-average 11 percent are Hispanic, and just 3 percent are black.

Union County

This county includes the cities of Elizabeth and Plainfield, and is also fairly urban. Its population was estimated at roughly 400,000 in 2010, and it is the third most densely populated county in New Jersey. Its population grew by 2.7 percent during the past decade. Based on 2009 data, median household income is close to $65,000, and nearly 31 percent of adults hold college degrees; both are slightly lower than for New Jersey as a whole but well above the national figures.

Along with Port Newark, Port Elizabeth forms a major transportation and distribution hub for the New York-New Jersey region. In addition, parts of Union County bordering Newark airport house a great deal of distribution industries. The pharmaceuticals industry also has a strong presence in Union County.  As in neighboring Morris County, management of companies is also an important industry sector. 

Hunterdon & Sussex Counties

These counties were almost entirely rural until the 1980s, when substantial development took place. Today, with fewer than 300 residents per square mile, Sussex and Warren are still among the most sparsely populated counties in northern New Jersey and can still be characterized as primarily rural, but increasingly suburban. Hunterdon’s population grew by just over 5 percent during the past decade, reaching 128,000, based on the 2010 Census.  Over the same period Sussex County’s population expanded by 3½ percent, reaching nearly 150,000 in 2010.  With a very small employment base, both counties are predominantly residential.  The recreation industry is somewhat concentrated in both counties.    

Hunterdon is the most affluent county in New Jersey, as measured by median household income, which was $103,000 in 2009; Sussex County is also above average on this dimension, with a median income of $80,000.  In terms of educational attainment, a remarkable 48 percent of Hunterdon County adults have college degrees; in contrast, the comparable proportion for Sussex County is 30 percent—above the nationwide average but somewhat lower than for New Jersey as a whole. 

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1Trends in home prices referred to here are all based on repeat-sales indexes from CoreLogic.

  Newark-Union Metro Division*: selected characteristics
    Population in 2010 % of 2010 Population that is1  
  Total Population1 % Change from 20001 per Sq. Mile2 Black Hispanic Asian  
  Newark-Union Metro Division 2,090,358   1.9   1267  22.0  18.1  5.3 
    Essex 783,696   -1.1   6209  40.9  20.3  4.6 
    Hunterdon 128,349   5.2   299  2.7  5.2  3.3 
    Morris 492,276   4.7   1050  3.1  11.5  9.0 
    Sussex 149,265   3.5   286 1.8  6.4  1.8 
    Union 536,499   2.7   5194 22.1  27.3  4.6 
  New Jersey 8,791,894   4.5   1,185   13.7   17.7   8.3
  USA 308,745,538   9.7   87   12.6   16.3   4.8

  Newark-Union Metro Division*: selected characteristics
    Median % of Homes % of Adults with5  
  Household Income3 Home Value4 Owner Occupied4 College Degrees HS Degrees  
  Newark-Union Metro Division $70,136   $479,500   76.1   36.0   86.1 
    Essex $54,086   $400,900   46.1   31.7   80.8 
    Hunterdon $102,954   $453,100   86.0   47.7   94.2 
    Morris $97,299   $479,500   76.1   47.5   92.5 
    Sussex $79,829   $326,400   84.6   30.2   93.0 
    Union $65,225   $399,300   60.9   30.5   84.0 
  New Jersey $68,342   $361,100   66.7   34.1   86.8 
  USA $50,221   $191,900   66.4   27.5   84.6 
* Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) are metro areas defined by the Office of Management and Budget for use by federal statistical agencies.
1 Source: US Bureau of the Census, decennial Census of Population.
2 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census of Population; land area data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s geographic database (TIGER® database) for Census 2000.
3 Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2009 (1-year estimates)
4

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2007-09 (3-year estimates)

5

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2006-08 (3-year estimates)

March 2014