Is being from New Jersey better than being from Ohio in NYC?

This sign means trouble.
This sign means trouble.

Moving to NYC is to be in a relentless state of attack, to have your credentials questioned at every turn, both literally and existentially, and to constantly be slapped with the question: Do you belong here? You could spend your whole life in New York City defending yourself against territorial natives, who, to be fair, have plenty of cause for concern that every day a new 23-year-old from somewhere else hatches in Chelsea or Bushwick, ready to overwrite the source code of the city. One of the most common tropes is that Ohioans and other midwesterners are the culprits — they borne of the land of SUVs and McMansions, chain stores and chicken fingers and whiteness, who flee to the city in search of something interesting without bringing anything to the table themselves.

Well, according to this chart culled from census data, that perception is all wrong: It’s those lousy New Jerseyans who are coming to Brooklyn and NYC more than anyone else, according to this map from wonderful data viz blog Very Small Array.

Via  Very Small Array.
Via Very Small Array.

It’s not exactly news that Ohioans are not the actual biggest faction moving to the city, nor is it news that popular stereotypes about people and places are usually wrong. Curbed and Brooklyn Magazine wrote about the top cities people move to NYC from in 2014, with Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles topping the list. But this map lays some of the census data down by neighborhood so you can see where your neighbors are coming from (it doesn’t count NY natives in the stats, obviously).

The layout of the map should not be a huge surprise. Jersey kids growing up and moving to the big city were once the scourge of locals, before transplants from farther away and more fly-overy states became the trendy bête noire. That hate got so bad there was once even a support group for Ohioans dealing with their stigma in NYC. For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming from Ohio, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming from anywhere: it’s how you act when you get here that you’re judged on.

Is being from NJ less terrible than being from elsewhere in the country and moving to NYC? I’m not sure, but there seems to be an aura of truce or tolerance extended to New Jersey natives in the city these days, possibly because of regionalism or maybe because New Jersey feels genetically closer to New York than suburban Ohio or coastal California. I say this from experience, having run into plenty of natives with claws out, ready to pounce when they ask me where I’m from, only to retract and confide their fears when I reveal I was born and raised in NJ (before fleeing it like it was a volcano spewing bed bugs upon reaching college age, I should note).


Home to everyone from everywhere but largely New Jersey.
Home to everyone from everywhere but largely New Jersey tbh.

“Oh, so you get it,” one old timer said to me (what “it” was I was supposed to get, I’m still not sure). Another, a security guard I talked to at the courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn while serving jury duty, assumed I was from California; when I corrected him, he said “that’s basically the same thing” as being from New York. Ocean County, NJ and Brooklyn are very much not the same thing, nor is it a part of New Jersey that seems to produce a lot of people who move to NYC (North Jersey seems to chuck them across the water in droves): I know maybe one person from my high school in the whole city.

Being from NJ comes with its own stigma in other parts of the country, and I don’t identify strongly enough with my home state to care much to defend it. But suffice it to say that New Jersey is indeed a terrible place, full of mean, petty people, where things like car insurance, tolls and property taxes are too expensive and you have to pay to get on the beaches, which you’d expect to be more clean for all that money.

Without even much concept of the world, or the country at large, I told my high school guidance counselor that my main criteria for colleges were: 1) a good journalism program and 2) not being located on NJ, though the first part was negotiable. The state’s No. 1 hero pens anthems about racing out of your hometown and how hard it is to reach escape velocity from the tar-pit muck of New Jersey that refuses to let you go. There are too many people in New Jersey, which is why your college was probably full of them. Its governorship is a mess — its governorship is always a mess.

But we had corner pizza parlors and trash problems, public transit issues and Italian delis where the guy knows your family’s order. We rooted for the Yankees or the Mets, the Giants or the Jets (though if you were slightly more west, you were infected by affinity for Philly teams, and you’re on your own there). For every New Yorker who hated bridge and tunnel crowds coming into the city on the weekends, we shared and equal if not greater bonfire of rage for the bennies who took over our beaches each summer (you even had the gall to make a show about it, you monsters).

I asked some NYC native friends what they thought. One told me NJers moving to NYC was expected and she didn’t think it was a big deal.

Another felt there was a certain same-boatness to NYC and NJ: “I feel more connected to people from Jersey,” he said. “I feel like the situation in NY is so dire that I find myself bringing Jersey and LI people into the fold.”

And one told me it’s not where you’re from, but what you come with: “I don’t think the NJ vs CA distinction makes as much of a difference as the fact that transplants are almost always wealthier than the average New Yorker,” she said.

You will find plenty of New Yorkers who write off anyone who wasn’t born in the five boroughs. But the NYC/New Jersey rivalry may have faded in recent years as gentrification rears its heads in much more dramatic forms, with people from farther away and abroad buying condos and replacing businesses. Maybe we’re all just afraid of rich people, wherever they’re from. But just know no matter your feelings for the state, you can’t escape New Jersey: It’s around you all the time, everywhere.

Follow Tim as he rides out tonight to case the promised land: @timdonnelly.

What’s your feelings on New Jersey people in NYC? Tell us in the comments!


  1. Gov Christie's Gunt

    If it’s mostly Jersey people coming in, and the complaints about transplants has been on the rise for the last decade +, then saying NJ transplants are ok makes no sense. Imo, North Jersey is fine, they are more like NYers & can blend in. The rest of the state should sink into the Atlantic though.

  2. Christina

    I grew up 15 minutes from the GW bridge in New Jersey, and I’ve been in NYC for ten years. I don’t have a problem if you roll up to NYC from Ohio or wherever, but if you’re from Ohio or Minnesota and you then have the nerve to scoff at people for being from New Jersey, you really must check yourself.

  3. Ramon L.

    North Jersey Native here.

    To be more specific, Jersey City. I think the reason for a lot of the camaraderie is because North NJ is going through its own gentrification problems. When I was growing up, I remember downtown Jersey City not being much better than the rest of the city, with high crime rates, impoverished neighborhoods, shuttered storefronts and the like. When I went to university, I noticed a lot was changing. The Pavonia/Newport section started creeping into the rest of the area. Soon, the whole waterfront was transformed into luxury apartments and condos at the cost of park space and pushing out longtime residents. The downtown JC now is unidentifiable with what it was just 15 years ago.

    Same thing is happening everywhere in New York. Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Bushwick, Ridgewood, et. al. are all facing changes of people coming in, paying more, displacing locals, and the government not seeming to give a fuck about it. I’ve been living in NY for the last 10 years and I’ve noticed this trend everywhere. I remember moving to Bushwick for wanting to be in a Hispanic/Latino culture much like home. That didn’t last very long. And after they are displaced, NIMBY proponents take a stand against further development once they get their own places in the now desired neighborhoods. It’s ridiculous!

    Still, this creates a bond between natives of both states. We grew up here and find ourselves being shoved out by the highest bidder. I believe many aren’t against the evolution of the areas, but they are against being shoved out in order for that process to happen in the name of money.

  4. Ocean county… of course you don’t feel like you fit in. You’re a phuckin hick! That’s south jersey, you’re 100 miles from manhattan jethro. Stop acting like your podunk home town is just as urban as the ones in the northern part of the state. North jersey and south jersey are different worlds. Same goes for upstate and the city. JC is more NYC than most of the boroughs and where I grew up in bk. North jersey, LI, little bit of westchester(mt Vernon, Yonkers etc) is all NYC. Same people, same mentalities, slight variation on accents. Midwesterners ruin everything.

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