The Cumberland County cities of Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton are bigger than ever, as well as older and more Hispanic than they were a decade ago, driven by the immigration of younger Latino residents and the aging of settled residents, census data show.
Population grew by 8,584, or about 8 percent, to 114,473 in the three cities between 2000 and 2010. This growth included 12,924 people of Hispanic heritage, a group that increased by almost 51 percent, to 38,378.
Hispanic population in these three cities increased from 24 percent in 2000 to almost 34 percent in the 2010.
Across the rest of the county, this group makes up slightly more than 27 percent, compared with almost 18 percent of New Jersey and more than 16 percent of residents across the U.S. The census defines Hispanic as people whose origins are from the Dominican Republic, Spain and Spanish-speaking Central or South American countries, as well as others who identify as such.
The growth of Hispanic residents in Millville, Bridgeton and Vineland is partially offset by the 4,340 people of non-Hispanic heritage who moved out of those cities during the first decade of the 21st century, the census shows.
Census data show Hispanic immigration was centered in Vineland and Bridgeton, which collectively saw 11,683 additional Hispanic residents.
While the percentage of Hispanics almost doubled in Bridgeton, the much larger city of Vineland gained more residents, 6,213, boosting the proportion of Hispanic residents from 30 percent to 38 percent.
Benjamin Ocasio, a pastor at Rock of Salvation Church on East Grape Street in Vineland, said he believes many Hispanic residents moved because they wanted to leave a bigger city or they rejoined relatives who already lived locally.
Others previously came to work in agriculture, he said, but those jobs are fewer now. Regardless, the results are clearly visible.
“I know when I go to my church I see a lot more Latinos,” said Mayra Arroyo, Vineland City Councilwoman, speaking of La Iglesia Presbiteriana Bet El on South Fourth Street. Arroyo also said she has seen bodegas and other businesses that cater to the Hispanic community grow.
Over the past 10 years, Arroyo has won election first to the city’s school board, and then in 2008 to City Council. This is something she said she didn’t think she would have been able to accomplish 10 to 15 years ago.
Other leaders, she said, “see that they need to have a Latino candidate, or more than one Latino candidate, in the party so that they can build that connection, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Ocasio, who also hosts “Conversando Con El Pueblo” — “talking with the community” — Friday afternoons on WMIZ 1270 AM, a Spanish language station, said he has watched the city grow and change from a sleepy town where he moved in the early 1970s with his family from Brooklyn, N.Y.
It was a hard adjustment coming from urban Brooklyn to rural Vineland where, he said, Spanish was more common. Once in Vineland, he said, the city’s Puerto Rican natives told him the city reminded them of their homes.
“I think it’s good because it brings a different flavor to the town,” Ocasio said of the population growth. “It brings our customs and it shows the community is growing. So, it’s very good.”
Ocasio acknowledged that there has been some friction between the newer and older residents. This has come up at different times, including as newer businesses move onto Landis Avenue, the city’s main street. But he said relations are better now than before.
“That’s all good to keep the town a certain way,” Ocasio argued, “but you’re not catering to everyone.”
During 2000-2010 the three cities also grew somewhat older, with the number of city residents between 55 and 74 years of age increasing by more than 19 percent to 18,703. Only Bridgeton saw a net exodus of people of this age, and even then, that population group decreased by just 14 people.
Similarly, the median ages of Vineland and Millville both increased by about two years, while Bridgeton’s shrank by about 2 years.
Older residents are scattered throughout Cumberland County, although many live in Vineland, where the number of residents between 55 and 74 years of age increased almost 28 percent to 11,517 between 2000 and 2010.
During that time, the city also saw the median age of its residents increase from 36.5 to 37.7 years of age.
At the Vineland Senior Center, Director Mary Barner said she has seen more people take advantage of the services offered at the center on South Sixth Street during her eight years there.
When she started, she said just two to six people would typically come by during the day.
“Now I’m at a point where my Monday and Wednesday exercise program can have 25 to 27 people,” Barner said.
The center offers a variety of activities and services, including help with some government paperwork, she said.
Other events are a Thursday bingo group that typically draws 20 to 25 people, and its pool tables are regularly in use.
“We’re getting more and more interest from folks wishing to participate,” Barner said. “I think, just in general, if you go to the mall or go to the grocery store, you will see the senior residents far outnumber the younger residents.”
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