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Urban Centers Weathering Economic Storm Better Than Other Places?

July 8, 2010
photo source: Resurgence City

A few months ago, New Jersey Future looked at residential building permit data and found that New Jersey’s urban centers were faring better, relative to the rest of the state, in permit activity over the 2003-2008 period, mirroring a trend at the national level.

The same seems to be true of jobs.  Between 2003 and 2008, third-quarter private-sector employment (available at the municipal level on this page) declined statewide by a little under 30,000 jobs (-29,846 to be exact), but it actually grew in the 8 urban centers identified by New Jersey’s State Plan (Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Trenton, Camden, New Brunswick, and Atlantic City), by 5,435 jobs.  In percentage terms, this is a loss of 0.9 percent statewide and a gain of 1.4 percent for the urban centers.

Looking only at the single-year change from 2007 to 2008 (reflecting the beginning of the recession), the urban centers lost 0.4 percent of their private-sector employment, while the state lost 1.5 percent — more than three times the urban centers’ rate of loss.

The urban centers appear to have weathered the beginning of the recession better than the state as a whole, although the results were mixed among the individual centers themselves:  New Brunswick, Paterson, and Elizabeth lost private-sector jobs over the 5-year period from 2003 to 2008, while Atlantic City, Camden, Newark, Jersey City, and Trenton gained.  Looking at the one-year changes, Newark, Jersey City, and Camden posted gains while the other five lost private-sector jobs, though Trenton and Atlantic City lost jobs at less than the statewide rate.

Maybe there is something to the idea that compact, mixed-use centers are retaining their value (to employers, in this case) in the economic downturn better than other places are.

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