What connects Princeton, West Windsor, Hopewell and Doylestown, PA? According to the Washington Post, they are all part of a regional cluster of ‘Super-Zips’. The Post analyzed all US zip-code areas to rank them on a scale of 0-99 based on household income and percentage of adults with college degrees. The top 5% are ‘Super-Zips’. Princeton, Skillman, and Pennington all reached this category. Plainsboro and Lawrence township narrowly missed out. What does it mean to live in a Super-Zip?
Super-Zips are characterized as ‘upscale enclaves’ where residents benefit from many advantages- not least excellent school districts. But despite benefitting from oustanding amenities and low crime rates, life is not all roses for residents of Super-Zips like Princeton. As the Post describes:
“…many who live in these rapidly evolving communities do not think of themselves as rich or elite. The cost of living, particularly for housing, eats up a large chunk of the two incomes it typically takes to afford a comfortable home in a good school district. Life surrounded by affluence can also breed worries that might seem absurd to people who do not live in Super Zips — such as whether to hire a professional tennis coach to help a child make the school team, or get an iPhone for a child in elementary school….”
This characterization seems plausible. Most of us in Princeton definitely do not consider ourselves to be elite. We work hard to afford to live in a town where property taxes and housing cost is a major burden. As for getting a tennis coach for the kids- well, there probably are people like that in Princeton, but for most of us, paying the mortgage or rent is enough of a challenge. Many people in Princeton on moderate incomes have had to move away. The ‘Post’ article describes the astonishment of long-term ‘Super-Zip’ residents, as they watch an ever-wealthier class of residents moving in, and $1.5 million houses replacing smaller homes on the same lots.
The Princeton Super-Zip cluster extends from Princeton Junction in the east through a band of affluent communities all the way across the Delaware river to Doylestown, PA in the west. There are only 15 such Super-Zip clusters in the USA. In New Jersey, several communities in Morris County form another Super-zip cluster, and there are smaller groups of Super-Zips in Monmouth County and Bergen/Passaic Counties (click through to the link above for a full map). In addition to these ‘Super-Zips’, we also find local zip-codes which rank squarely at the bottom of the pile. For example, whereas the 08540 zip-code which includes most of Princeton scored an outstanding 97 on the Washington Post survey, the Trenton 08609 zip-code scored just 6- a single-digit score that will surprise nobody who is familiar with Trenton’s problems.
The USA is driving toward ever-increasing extremes of wealth and poverty. and an analysis of changing household income published last week by the ‘Star-Ledger‘ showed that New Jersey’s middle-class is disappearing, as growing numbers of New Jerseyans join the ranks of the working poor. Do New Jersey’s ‘Super-Zips’ have a responsibility to try to reverse the trend of wealth inequality? Can we? And if Super-Zip residents are struggling to keep up in a highly-competitive economy, do we have time to worry about anybody else?
How do you like living in the Princeton ‘Super-Zip’? Do you feel privileged, or pressured? Maybe both?? Is there anything Princeton or other affluent communities could do to reverse the trend of growing income inequality in New Jersey? Leave your thoughts using the comment box below!