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Union County

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Ranked #9 in Best Counties to Live in New Jersey

Developed as part of New York’s metropolitan area, Union County is one of the most prominent counties in New Jersey. The county is famous for its diversity, and is often considered the most diverse county in the state. This level of diversity, along with a thriving economy, make this one of the most inviting regions in the United States. 


For much of the 15th and 16th centuries, this region was inhabited by the Lenni Lenapi Indian tribe. Following the Elizabethtown Purchase in 1664, the English took ownership of the land from the natives. This led to the creation of New Jersey’s first proper settlement. Initially, Union County was part of Essex County, one of the original four counties to be established here. As new cities and towns were developed in the region, including Plainfield, there was a desire to make the region stand on its own. Following this, Union County was officially founded on March 19th, 1857, separating the region from Essex. It has the distinction of being the last of New Jersey’s original counties to be established. According to the 2019 United States Census, Union County currently has a population of around 556,341. In addition, the average household makes around $77,095 each year here. Elizabeth serves as the county seat, and is the fourth most populated city in New Jersey overall. Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical company, currently sits as the largest employer in the county. Union County is most famous for hosting one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the state. The population consists of 39% white citizens, 20% African American citizens, 32% Hispanic citizens and 5% Asian citizens. This level of diversity makes Union County an inviting destination, and people of several backgrounds are enticed to move here each year. 

With a population density of 4,955 people per square mile (water excluded), Union County was the 15th-most densely populated county in the United States and third-densest in New Jersey, behind Hudson County (ranked 6th nationwide at 9,754 per square mile) and Essex County (ranked 11th at 6,126). As of the 2019 Census estimate, the county’s population was 556,341, making it the seventh-most populous of the state’s 21 counties, an increase of 5.1% from the 2010 United States Census, when its population was enumerated at 536,499, in turn an increase of 13,958 (2.7%) from the 522,541. In 2015, the county had a per capita personal income of $60,089, the seventh-highest in New Jersey and ranked 152nd of 3,113 counties in the United States. The Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked the county as having the 119th-highest per capita income of all 3,113 counties in the United States (and the eighth-highest in New Jersey) in 2009. A study by Forbes.com determined that Union County pays the second-highest property taxes of all U.S. counties, based on 2007 data. 


Union County is home to Kean University, a co-educational, public research university dating back to 1855 is located in Union and Hillside, serving nearly 13,000 undergraduates. Kean University educates its students in the liberal arts, the sciences and the professions; it is best known for its programs in the humanities and social sciences and in education, graduating the most teachers in the state of New Jersey annually, along with a physical therapy program which it holds in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, currently known as The Rutgers Biomeddical and Health Services

Union County College is the two-year community college for Union County, one of a network of 19 county colleges in New Jersey. Union County College was founded in 1933 and has campuses in Cranford, Elizabeth, Plainfield and Scotch Plains. 

Most municipalities have their own public high schools, exceptions being Garwood, whose students attend Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark; Winfield, whose students attend David Brearley High School in Kenilworth; and Mountainside, whose students attend Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights. Fanwood is mostly merged with Scotch Plains educationally and the two towns have one high school. The county also has Union County Vocational Technical Schools, which has both full-time magnet programs that students must apply to, and split-time vocational programs. 


Union County is also an extensive shopping hub, offering a wide range of stores and malls for residents. The Mills at Jersey Gardensis a popular shopping destination, as it stands as one of the largest malls in New Jersey. There’s also the Union Plaza Shopping Center, which offers a wide selection of retailers. 

For the music lovers, the Union County Performing Arts Center hosts plays and musical performances throughout the year. For those who enjoy golf, the Galloping Hill Golf Course can be found in Kenilworth. Lastly, the Trailside Nature and Science Center, found at the Watchung Reservation, offers several hillside trails. The Union County Department of Parks and Recreation oversees all the parks in the local area. There are over 30 parks in the county, and they are all important to the county’s culture. The Watchung Reservation, Nomahegan Park, Warinanco Park, Echo Lake Park and Ashbrook Reservation are some of the county’s most popular parks. You’ll find hiking trails, baseball fields, soccer fields and several other recreational areas at these parks. Warinanco Park also has its own skating rink, which operates seasonally. Picnic areas are also available across the parks. These parks host breathtaking sights and views, making them perfect for residents who want to unwind. 

Union County is an excellent place for regular commuters, thanks to its proximity to New York. A train ride will get you to New York in less than an hour, giving you access to Penn Station in Newark as well as Penn Station in New York (Midtown). From there, you’ll have easy access to major locations across the country, including Philadelphia and Boston. In regards to air travel, Newark International Airport is the primary option for Union County residents.

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