Populations Vulnerable to Climate Change in New Jersey: Update of a Statistical Analysis

In order to characterize and locate frontline communities in New Jersey, this study examines the demographic and geographic attributes of socially-vulnerable groups and their exposure to flooding (the cause of nearly all past presidential declarations in the state). The research revealed that a disproportionate number of highly socially-vulnerable census tracts are located in flood hazard areas.

According to the study, factors that contribute to the vulnerability of a person or social group include age, ethnicity and race, gender, physical ability and health status, socioeconomic status, occupation, access to knowledge and information, and geographic location, among others. Despite heightened vulnerability, the authors note that frontline communities are “some of the most prepared people who help their neighbors during a hazard event.”

Based on the Social Vulnerability Index 2006-2010 (SoVI), the study found four significant factors (of 30 total factors). These are census tracts with:

  • populations characterized by race (black), family structure (single parent, female-headed), and low socioeconomic status
  • populations characterized by linguistic isolation, ethnicity (Hispanic), high population density, and low socioeconomic status
  • populations characterized by age (seniors)
  • high percentages of unoccupied housing

The researchers assume that high concentrations of unoccupied housing, especially along the coast, denote high high seasonal occupancy and second home ownership. As seen following Superstorm Sandy, loss of these homes can harm the economies of tourism-dependent communities, and tourists are likely less familiar with procedures and resources to respond to extreme events.

The researchers found that 15% of all New Jersey census tracts are highly vulnerable (defined as two or more significant vulnerability factors). Based on FEMA’s Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps, 69% of these high social vulnerability census tracts with floodplain data are located within the 100-year floodplain (meaning 1% annual chance flood event). About 74% of high social vulnerability census tracts are located in the 500-year floodplain (0.2% annual chance flood event). Counties with the highest percentage of vulnerable tracts within the floodplain are located in densely populated urban areas (particularly Hudson, Essex and Passaic Counties) and along the coast (such as Ocean and Atlantic Counties).  

Despite its limitations, this study offers important insights into the intersection of social vulnerability and flood risk, thereby highlighting a strategy to channel resources and build local capacity across the state.

 

This report is part of a series prepared on behalf of the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance. 

 

Publication Date: June 2015

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  • Rutgers University

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  • Assessment

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