New Jersey’s Redistricting Efforts Need to Consider Its Diverse Communities

Testimony by NJPP Senior Policy Analyst Peter Chen on accurately representing New Jersey's diversity through redistricting.

Published on Jan 26, 2022 in General

Good morning. I’m Peter Chen and am a Senior Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP).

New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) is a nonpartisan think tank that drives policy change to advance economic, social, and racial justice through evidence-based, independent research, analysis, and strategic communication.

As former coordinator of the 2020 Census non-profit outreach campaign for New Jersey, I am keenly aware of the importance of the redistricting process and have contacted a wide range of communities across the state. Each of these communities sought to ensure that their voices are heard by their elected representatives.

I testify today to raise three points for the Commission to consider as you deliberate on how to conduct redistricting in an equitable way. In particular, I’d like to focus on the changes in New Jersey’s ethnic and racial diversity that highlight the need to carefully consider how to ensure all communities get fair representation in the state legislature.

Overall increase in diversity

As the Commissioners are no doubt aware, New Jersey’s Hispanic/Latinx and Asian/Asian-American communities continued to grow dramatically since 2010. The combination of AAPI and Hispanic/Latinx growth of more than 650,000 residents actually exceeds New Jersey’s overall growth (497,000) during the past decade.

This is also reflected in the overall population not identifying as white. Roughly 48 percent of the state now identifies as a race or ethnic category other than white non-Hispanic. (Note that although this has been framed as a “decline” in white population, people may also be identifying their race differently than before.)

Based on current legislative district maps, the median legislative district is 57% non-Hispanic white, while the state as a whole is only 52% white.

The new map should ensure that districts broadly speaking reflect New Jersey’s diversity but also that racial or ethnic communities of interest are not unnecessarily split in ways that dilute their voice.

For example, current maps often carve pockets of minority racial-group populations into multiple districts. For example, the predominantly Asian-American municipalities of Plainsboro, West Windsor and South Brunswick are split among three different districts. Similarly, Edison, Piscataway, and Woodbridge each occupy three different districts.

Need for differentiation within categories

The racial and ethnic categories in the Census continue to be categories of convenience rather than accurate descriptions of community self-identification. For example, the continent of Asia contains more than half of the world’s population, including hundreds of languages and dozens of nations. Yet these groups are lumped together as “Asian or Asian-American.”

Although the decennial Census does not provide a deeper breakdown within these groups, the American Community Survey does. The following are based on the 2015 5-year detailed tables.

The largest national origin groups (alone or in combination) within Asian populations were:

  • Asian Indian (353,215)
  • Chinese (incl. Taiwan) (164,443)
  • Filipino (156,833)
  • Korean (104,696)
  • Pakistani (29,902)
  • Vietnamese (28,671)
  • Japanese (21,065)

One notable feature among Hispanic/Latinx national origins is the diversity of nativity (i.e., whether the person was born in the United States).

Population Groups Total Population in NJ U.S.-born Foreign-born
Puerto Rican 471,035 463,993 7,042
South American 375,657 131,912 243,745
Dominican (Dominican Republic) 243,255 102,382 140,873
Mexican 231,902 108,697 123,205
Central American (excludes Mexican) 203,842 69,545 134,297

Diversity within and among groups of different national origin is extremely important in considering how communities identify. Digging deeper than surface-level racial and ethnic categories is critical to ensuring just representation.

As just one example, the Ecuadorian population of New Jersey made up approximately 123,000 residents in 2015. If this community were its own municipality, it would be the state’s 6th largest, larger than Edison, Woodbridge or Toms River. The state’s Peruvian population (82,000) is greater than the total population of Camden or Cherry Hill. The state’s Salvadoran population (67,000) is as large as Middletown or Old Bridge.

“Some Other Race” and “More than One Race”

New Jerseyans increasingly view their racial identity as more complex than preexisting categories. Yet these categories have historically been the only metrics of diversity: the previous shapefiles for New Jersey’s 2012 apportionment commission only included four demographic categories – white only, Black/African-American only, Asian/Asian-American only, and Hispanic.

In 2020, 11.2% of New Jerseyans identified as “Some Other Race alone”, while 9.7% identified as more than one race.

Hispanic/Latinx identity also intersected heavily with these two groups. Roughly 93% of “Some Other Race alone” respondents also identified as Hispanic/Latinx, while 68% of those identifying as more than one race also identified as Hispanic/Latinx.

I encourage the Commission to look beyond the four historical categories to identify which communities are represented. At the very least, I encourage the Commission to look at individuals identifying as “race in all combinations” rather than one-race alone, particularly for non-White populations.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify today.

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