Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Oh, That Changes Everything

Joe Morrissey with bride-to-be Myrna Pride and baby. He is running as an independent in the black-majority 16th state senate district.

Joe Morrissey with bride-to-be Myrna Pride and baby. He is running as an independent in the black-majority 16th state senate district.

Former Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, is back in the news after a brief absence from the front pages while simultaneously serving in the General Assembly and serving work-release jail time for contributing to the deliquency of a minor, his 17-year-old receptionist. He is now living with the young woman, now 19, and their baby boy. Morrissey, 57, invited reporters over to say a few words, including these, as reported by the Times-Dispatch:

[Morrissey] said he was hurt by rumors that he had fathered three children with three different African-American women and that he had abandoned those children.

“That’s patently false,” he said. “All of it.”

In reality, Morrissey said, he has four children by four different women. Two of them are biracial, the other two are white.

As the saying goes, “Res ipsa loquitur” — the thing speaks for itself.

– JAB

Richmond Childrens Hospital Deal Collapses

Did VCU's commitment to  its new $168 million childrens' pavilion kill plans for a consolidated Richmond regional childrens' hospital?

Did VCU’s commitment to its new $168 million childrens’ pavilion kill plans for a consolidated Richmond regional childrens’ hospital?

by James A. Bacon

To be sure, building a new, free-standing childrens’ hospital for the Richmond region would be an expensive proposition — on the order of $600 million. But when mega-philanthropists Alice and William H. Goodwin are willing to kick in $150 million, a fund-raising campaign has been organized to raise another $100 million to $150 million, and dozens of pediatric physicians in the region are backing the project, one would think that community leaders could find a way to make it happen.

But all bets are off now that two key participants, Virginia Commonwealth University and Bon Secours Richmond Health System announced yesterday that they had pulled out of the deal. Goodwin, who with his wife has worked on the idea for eight years, said he would be willing to resume talks if the hospitals were, but otherwise, “I don’t need another couple of years of discussions.”

The collapse of the Childrens’ Hospital in the Richmond region stands in stark contrast to the announcement in Febuary by Inova Health Systems in Fairfax County that it would purchase the old Exxon-Mobil headquarters facility, assessed at $193 million in value, in order to house a world-class facility dedicated to genomics and personalized medicine.  The big difference is that Inova did not have to balance competing interests in the same way that promoters of the Richmond childrens’ facility do.

The argument in favor of consolidating patient care for children in a single state-of-the-art facility is that a specialized facility can provide superior care and better medical outcomes for children than a system that is fragmented between three major health systems, VCU, Bons Secours and HCA. (For-profit HCA was not a party to the childrens’ hospital negotiations.) It is a truism of medical economics that the greater the number of medical procedures performed by a medical practice and its physicians, the more efficient the operations, the lower the cost and the better the outcomes. Another advantage of a dedicated childrens’ facility is that combining pediatric practices would create a larger volume that could support more specialties, saving many patients and their families from traveling outside the region for their medical care.

Against those advantages is the hard business reality that neither VCU nor Bon Secours is willing to give up their significant pediatric practices out of the goodness of their hearts. Both health systems would lose major revenue streams during a time of great uncertainty caused by the legal challenge to Obamacare subsidies, the refusal of the General Assembly to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program and federal funding issues regarding the training of new physicians.

“This particular model that was proposed was a free-standing hospital with no ownership by VCU or Bon Secours,” said Tony R. Ardabell, CEO of Bon Secours Richmond, as quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That would have been a tremendous negative impact to the bottom line, and we were worried about the sustainability of our ministry at St. Mary’s Hospital for the whole population of Richmond.”

“As a safety-net hospital we are headed into a very, very serious set of storms that are not totally predictable but you can see them out into the future being difficult periods,” said VCU President Michael Rao.

Goodwin’s reaction: Those are short-term problems. He is looking at a 50-year time horizon.

While the financial environment for the health care industry undoubtedly is cloudy, Bon Secours and VCU are staggeringly profitable. At least they were in 2013, according to data reported to Virginia Health Information; it is possible that the Obamacare roll-out and other factors have impacted profits negatively since then. Here is the data:

Note: The Bon Secours data is a composite of the four Bon Secours hospitals in the Richmond region; it is not clear from the VHI profiles if Bon Secours Richmond regional administrative overhead is included. Also note: The definition of "operating income" is profit before interest and taxes.

Note: The Bon Secours data is a composite of the four Bon Secours hospitals in the Richmond region; it is not clear from the VHI profiles if Bon Secours Richmond regional administrative overhead is included. Also note: The definition of “operating income” is profit before interest and taxes.

For all the benefits it would offer the community, a new children’s hospital would create problems for VCU and Bon Secours, which would stand to lose tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars of pediatric business, saddling them with tremendous stranded costs in existing facilities, staff and equipment. The problem would be all the more acute for VCU, which is building a $168 million Children’s Pavilion on Broad Street to consolidate pediatrics services across the downtown campus.

But questions arise about the responsibility that these two not-for-profit enterprises have toward the public good. One could argue that the primary responsibility of VCU and Bon Secours should be to the health of the community, not their highly profitable bottom lines. If a consolidated, state-of-the-art childrens’ facility would provide superior health care to the region’s young people, the VCU and Bon Secours boards of directors have some serious soul searching to do.

One More Time Now… Devolve Transportation Funding to the States

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

by James A. Bacon

Congress is floundering over what to do about the Highway Trust Fund, which collects the federal gasoline tax and plows it back to the states to finance a smorgasbord of transportation projects. The original justification for the gas tax was to build the Interstate Highway System, but the program has morphed over the years into a  piggy bank for all manner of Interstate, highway, transit and miscellaneous projects that must be supplemented with General Fund appropriations. Congress persons are loathe to relinquish the perk of doling out money to constituents, but fiscal pressures make it impractical to continue the General Fund subsidies, while raising the gas tax is a political killer. What’s a Congress person to do? What he or she does best — dither.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Amtrak’s deadly derailment last week, we hear the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth that America isn’t investing enough in infrastructure.

The idea that the United States is significantly under-investing in infrastructure is nonsense — the kind of special pleading you hear from big construction and engineering firms who grow fat on infrastructure spending. Among the G-7 countries (Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and the U.S.), the total capital stock of the U.S. (transportation and other infrastructure) is the third highest, equivalent to 52% of the Gross Domestic Product, as seen in the graphic above, published today in the Wall Street Journal. While Japan is off-the-charts higher, that country arguably has way over-invested in transportation, creating a system that it cannot afford to maintain over the long run.

infastructure_quality

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

Likewise, the quality of infrastructure (the general state of repair) is also in the middle of the pack, as seen at left.

The problem isn’t the level of spending, it’s the mis-allocation of spending. As WSJ columnist Greg IP writes (sounding a long-time theme here at Bacon’s Rebellion), the economic Return on Investment of federally funded projects varies widely; indeed  the feds have no mechanism for ascertaining ROI. “It’s nobody’s job in Washington to figure out which roads or bridges we should invest in,” Ip quotes Aaron Klein with the Bipartisan Policy Center as saying.

pavement_life_cycle2It’s time for Congress to get out of the business of building new transportation infrastructure. Having constructed the Interstate Highway System, Uncle Sam should commit to maintaining it and devolve responsibility for other projects to the states. That means adjusting the gas tax to whatever level it takes to maintain that system at an optimal level, and no higher. By optimum, I mean at a reasonably high state of quality and repair and with sufficient spending to undertake deep repairs at the most economically advantageous point on the life-cycle curve. Presumably, that level would require a much lower federal gas tax than the one in place now. A reduction in the federal gas tax would free the states to increase their own gas taxes by a like amount, more, or less, depending upon their circumstances.

A bedrock principle for maintaining an optimum level of infrastructure investment is to put each component — roads, highways, mass transit, ports, airports, railroads — on a user-pays basis. When users pay for the transportation amenities they want, they are more careful about what they ask for. Any other system results in a political free-for-all in which every interest group seeks to get its favored projects funded at the expense of everyone else, in which case ideology and politics prevail over economic rationality.

Chill Out, Wintergreen!

Wintergreen Resort -- residents in fear of gas pipeline

Wintergreen residents fearful of gas pipeline

by Stephen Haner

To My Fellow Landowners in Wintergreen:

Chill out, will you?

My inbox is filling these days with Wintergreen-related propaganda opposing a natural gas pipeline that is proposed to pass through Nelson County.

Here’s a recent example, emphasis added:

“The great majority of Wintergreen owners will permanently see it as they enter Wintergreen and from all of the major vantage points here – Black Rock Circle, Devils Knob Loop all the way to Blue Ridge Overlook and down Cedar Drive, the Plunge, the Wintergreen/Founders Vision Overlook and for several miles as it winds its way down to Rockfish Valley.  Property values on the Mountain and in Stoney Creek will be adversely affected.”

Oh, please.  Once the pipeline is built and then re-buried – beside but not through Wintergreen — people from a few vantages might see a wide swath of grass, a straight long meadow, snaking down the mountainside.  Just like now they see a winding road.

Here’s a little tidbit you all know but the rest of Virginia might not.  Property values in Wintergreen are already depressed, still far below the peak in 2007 or so.  That particular micro real estate market was in recession long before there was any discussion of a pipeline.

Why? Energy prices and the general malaise in the U.S. economy are to blame.  A second home and resort membership out in the mountains is a luxury item, requiring a very nice income and a willingness to fill up the family buggy with lots and lots of fuel, especially if your second house is on top of a mountain.  If you care about your property values, you want fuel prices to continue at these current low levels and you want Virginia’s economy to start booming again.  You want Virginia back on top of the “Best for Business” rankings.

And that’s what the pipeline, as one element of the cheap-natural-gas fueled rebirth of our economy, is all about. Wintergreen is the perfect example of how the wealth of the Richmond, Hampton Roads and Washington areas finds its way to the Blue Ridge.

As the pipeline routes are debated, as the “No Pipeline” signs sprout in the county, I understand the anger of those landowners who have a family farm or business that is directly impacted.  But the wealthy of Wintergreen whining about their view have me scratching my head, because some of you have to understand enough economics to see the benefits of this pipeline and enough engineering to know it will be safe and barely visible.

Me, I’m hoping sometime in the distant future somebody else has the inclination and income to buy our house, and that wealth is not going to be created without energy.  The BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) philosophy coming to dominate this country is the real threat to property values.

Do Asians Face Discrimination at Top Virginia Universities?

racial_breakdownby James A. Bacon

Many Asian-Americans are getting frustrated with the enrollment caps on Asians at some of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher education. As Jason Riley recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, Asian-Americans are the new Jews, academic high achievers who are under-represented on top college campuses in comparison to their qualifications.

A coalition of more than 60 Asian-American groups is asking federal authorities to investigate possible racial bias in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University. Harvard, like many prestigious universities, makes extra room for “legacies,” mostly white, in appreciation of, or expectation of, generous alumni contributions. At the same time, Harvard also considers race/ethnicity among other factors when admitting African-Americans and Hispanics. That leaves non-legacy but high-achieving Asian-Americans in the cold at a competitive disadvantage. Writes Riley:

Asians have some of the highest academic credentials but the lowest acceptance rates at the nation’s top schools, a result that the coalition attributes to “just-for-Asians admissions standards that impose unfair and illegal burdens on Asian-American college applicants.” A 2009 paper by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that “Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT to be on equal footing.”

Bacon’s take. So, I began wondering, what is the track record of Virginia’s public universities? Are Asian-Americans getting a fair shake in the Old Dominion? I had no idea what to expect, but I crunched some numbers.

Asian-Americans represented 5.5% of Virginia’s population in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The percentage is probably higher today.) But that’s not a proper basis for comparison. Asians out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically in high school, so a better basis of comparison is the percentage of academic high achievers. There may be different ways to calculate that number, and I welcome any input on different ways to do it. What I did was consult the Virginia Department of Education’s online build-a-database tool to ascertain a racial breakdown of students who scored “advanced pass” in their SOLs for all grades.  For each racial/ethnic group, I averaged the advanced-pass rate to derive a composite score, as seen in the pie chart above.

By this metric, Asian-Americans comprise 12% of the top-scoring students in Virginia K-12 schools. For purposes of the argument I’m making, this is a very conservative measure. The numbers could well be even more skewed for metrics of college-ready students such as SAT scores or AP exam results.

So, how does the Asian enrollment compare for Virginia’s most selective institutions of higher education? Here are the percentages for Asian undergraduate enrollees at Virginia’s highest-ranked public universities:

asian_enrollments

The University of Virginia is dead-on target but the other three fall far short. While suggestive enough to demand digging deeper, these numbers are not, by themselves, proof of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Perhaps one reason there are so few Asians at James Madison University, to take one example, is that the institution gets very few Asian-American applicants.  A better basis of comparison is the percentage of applicants accepted at each university.

uva_admissionsWhile I could not find current racial breakdowns of admission as a percentage of applicants in an online search this morning, I did locate a research paper that provided some statistics for fall 2003 admissions. The paper, “Affirmative Action at Three Universities,” compared undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia and North Carolina State along with law school admissions at the College of William & Mary.

While Asians were admitted at a slightly lower rate than Hispanics or whites at the University of Virginia, the rate was not severely out of line. Any discrimination in admissions was markedly in favor of African-Americans, not against Asians. At the William & Mary law school, Hispanics were severely under-represented, while Asians were somewhat under-represented. (Please note: This data is more than 10 years old and not necessarily reflective of current patterns.)

This scatter-shot evidence suggests that Asians may face discrimination when applying to some of Virginia’s top-tier universities. But the evidence is impressionistic at best. It would be necessary to get better data before drawing definitive conclusions. On the other hand, I would argue that the evidence is strong enough to warrant taking a closer look.

Juggling Risk on Interstate 66

i66by James A. Bacon

The specter of the botched U.S. 460 project will be hovering over the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) today as Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne updates the board about project financing for Interstate 66 outside the Washington Capital Beltway, expected to cost in the realm of $2 billion.

Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, set the stage Sunday in an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in which he advocated using a Public Private Partnership (P3) to finance improvements to the critical Northern Virginia transportation corridor as opposed to a “design-build” contract. Design-build was the approach employed in the U.S. 460 connector between Petersburg and Suffolk that resulted in $300 million spent “without a single shovel of dirt being turned.”

Habeeb is asking a vital question: What is the best way to finance and operate mega-transportation projects with costs running into the billions of dollars? Under the old model, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) designed, built, financed and operated big projects entirely in-house. But with limited transportation funding available and restrictions on how much the state could borrow during the Warner, Kaine and McDonnell administrations, nothing much was getting built. The idea behind P3s was to leverage scarce state funding with private sector funding for tolled projects capable of generating a revenue stream. Toll revenues would pay off the private-sector bonds used to finance the improvements. In effect, P3s amounted to an end run around the tight strictures on how much debt the commonwealth could issue without jeopardizing its AAA credit rating. The debt, and the risk that went along with it, would be shifted to the private sector.

Habeeb likes P3s. Construction of express lanes on Interstate 495 and 95 in Northern Virginia opened on budget and ahead of schedule, he says. Further, he adds, “These two projects produced $5 billion in economic activity but because they were pursued as P3s taxpayers contributed only $492 in state transportation funds.”

By contrast, he writes, the U.S. 460 project was conducted as a design-build, in which design and construction were outsourced to a private-sector consortium but the state planned to finance and operate the highway, “leaving taxpayers on the hook if the project failed” … which it did, costing taxpayers in the neighborhood of $300 million.”

I think there’s a time and place for P3s, but the cost-benefit calculus is more complex than Habeeb acknowledges in a 750-word op-ed. The big bugaboo is risk. There are many types of risk associated with transportation megaprojects, and it isn’t always clear what they are and who is shouldering it. Virginia’s Office of Transportation Public Private Partnerships was tracking risks in the U.S. 460 project — the risk that really mattered, and ended up killing the project, whether or not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not issue required wetlands permits — but the concerns were ignored by the McDonnell administration for political reasons.

Would the U.S. 460 fiasco have been avoided if it had been a P3? Undoubtedly, a private-sector partner would have taken greater precautions to get its permits lined up before expending $300 million of its own money on design and construction-mobilization costs. So, most likely, the fiasco would not have occurred. On the other hand, a P3 partnership was not practicable. Toll revenues would have been so meager that only a small percentage of the project could have been funded privately — that’s why the state decided to take over the financing itself.

It’s easy to forget that there are risks associated with P3s as well. What happens if toll revenues fail to meet forecasts, as has been the case with the 495 Express Lanes? It all depends on how a particular deal is structured. Many projects are backed by federal loan guarantees called TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loans. Every bond financing provides a buffer for modest revenue shortfalls. But if revenues fall far short, TIFIA eats the loss before non-guaranteed loans do. Instead of state taxpayers taking the hit, federal taxpayers do. If TIFIA bond holders get wiped out, then holders of the private bonds are next in line. In the worst case scenario, as happened with the Pocahontas Parkway outside Richmond, a project can get turned over to the banks.

The commonwealth ordinarily takes great pains to protect itself from financial liabilities in case of P3 failure. But there are other risks. P3 contracts usually last 50 to 100 years, and private-sector partners negotiate terms that protect their revenue stream over the long run. Typically, they insert clauses that restrict the state from building roads, rail lines or other transportation alternatives that might divert paying customers. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict 50 years in advance how future growth and development will alter travel patterns and what options might be necessary.  P3 anti-competitive clauses could limit the ability of the state to provide adequate transportation to some of its citizens far into the future. Those are risks that may not become evident for decades.

I, for one, will be interested to see how Secretary Layne proposes to finance the I-66 improvements. Hopefully, he’s learned the right lessons from the U.S.460 experience.

Sexual Chaos on Campus

Vigen Guroian

Vigen Guroian

by James A. Bacon

Vigen Guroian, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, ran a sexuality seminar a year ago in which students talked candidly about what he describes as the “deep, pervasive sexual chaos” that dominated the grounds. William Wilson, an academic dean, has met with “dozens” of young women so shaken from their sexual experiences that they had stopped attending classes.

Guroian and Wilson are well versed in the problem of rape and sexual assault on campus. And in an op-ed piece published yesterday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch as well as an essay in First Things, they argue that university and student leaders campaigning against the “culture of rape” are focusing on the symptom rather than the underlying cause — “a toxic sexual environment that damages all the young people touched by it.”

William Wilson

William Wilson

Their analysis of sexual violence at the University of Virginia, which erupted into a national issue with the now-discredited Rolling Stone article about a fraternity-house gang rape, dovetails precisely with the arguments I advanced in this blog at the time. One difference is that, while I opined from afar, Guroian and Wilson base their observations on testimony from dozens of students. Another is that they are even more strident in their portrayal of how campus sexual culture has degenerated.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, colleges and universities abolished the “rules, manners and conventions of courtship” that they had long encouraged, write the two religion profs. No more sexually segregated dormitories. No more adult supervision at frat houses. No more restrictions about visits to bedrooms. As the old restraints fell away, a new campus culture of sexuality arose.

Our students have told us what is wrong. In vivid detail they have recounted stories about “incestuous” dorm “hook-up” parties, young women spread out all but naked on fraternity house floors in the early  morning hours, and the general rough and tumble of sex gone awry, a formless sex with no purpose other than momentary impulse or recreational titillation. …

We contend that young women were not empowered by the changes that followed. Rather, the hook-up culture and casual cohabitation in dormitories gravely disadvantaged young women. …

None of our students have objected that we exaggerate the sexual free-for-all that envelopes their lives. No one has argued that the demise of dating and courtship has brought about liberation from repressive sex roles. The laissez-faire sexual economy, which the university lets happen, puts young women at risk and threatens to turn young men into louts.

What is to be done? Defining the problem narrowly as rape and sexual assault is not helpful.

When for administrative purposes we categorize rape as one specimen among many of sexual misconduct, we lose a vital sense of the full scale of sexual disorder that afflicts college life. When we become incapable of responding to rape as what it is, an act just one step short of murder, then all else that has gone awry with sex in the university takes on the look of normality.

One way to start is to admit what is occurring: “For decades a destructive disordering of relations between the sexes has festered right under our eyes [and] a feckless institutionalization of the sexual revolution in our colleges has resulted in maiming countless young people,” write Guroian and Wilson. They go on:

Complete neutrality about sex leads to complete sexual exploitation, and sometimes violence. We must stop blaming fraternities, drinking or the heritage of an all-male university education for the sexual chaos beyond our classrooms. That chaos is of our own making.

Portsmouth Takes a Hit from Tunnel Construction

tunnel_traffic

Vehicle traffic through Downtown and Midtown tunnels. Image credit: James V. Koch. Click for larger image.

by James A. Bacon

The City of Portsmouth has been clobbered by the imposition of tolls on the Midtown Tunnel and Downtown Tunnel connecting the city to Norfolk, and hammered again by construction-related disruptions to service on the tunnels. Combined, the impact of tolls and disruption have reduced quarterly taxable sales by $24 million annually, materially harming businesses and crimping tax revenue, finds James V. Koch, president emeritus of the economics department at Old Dominion University in a new study.

In the report, “The Impact of Tolls on the City of Portsmouth: The Evidence 15 Months Later,” Koch is especially critical of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and its private-sector partner, the Elizabeth River Company (ERC), for providing motorists inadequate warning of the interruptions to traffic disruptions, thus creating widespread uncertainty among discretionary drivers “east of the river” who might otherwise travel to stores, recreation, churches or social gatherings in the city. “In many drivers’ minds, tunnel closures have become sufficiently unpredictable that they are not going to take chances,” he writes.

Koch does not criticize the decision of VDOT under the McDonnell administration to impose tolls on the formerly toll-free tunnels in order to finance construction of new tunnel lanes and related land-side transportation improvements to alleviate some of the worst traffic congestion in Hampton Roads. Benefits will be felt throughout the region. But he does note that Portsmouth is suffering disproportionately.

Says Koch: “My rough estimate is that Portsmouth is impacted 31 percent more than Suffolk by the tolls and closures, 459 percent more than Norfolk, and 616 percent more than Virginia Beach.”

Bacon’s bottom line:  It’s no surprise that imposing tolls where there were none imposes economic pain. What I find most interesting is Koch’s conclusion that the impact of construction-related disruptions was almost as severe — $10 million of the $24 million — but could be partially mitigated if ERC and VDOT did a better job of alerting drivers, either through advertising or signage, of those disruptions. That is a management issue, not an inevitable consequence of the construction project.

Koch thinks the hit to taxable sales could get worse this year and next. However, the region should start feeling the benefits when the project is complete. As Koch writes:

When all of the construction is completed (and setting tolls aside), the cost of driving in and out of Portsmouth will decline. Vehicles will be able to travel at higher speeds, fewer traffic jams will confer time savings, travel will become much more predictable, vehicle wear and tear will decline, and there will be diminished pollution.  To the extent these reductions in costs exceed the size of the tolls being paid, they will make Portsmouth a more attractive place to live and/or to locate a business.

From a macro-economic perspective, Portsmouth may wind up better off in the long run. But that won’t be much consolation to the businesses that Koch thinks very well could go out of business in the meantime. VDOT and ERC need to act quickly to mitigate what harm they can.

How to Frame the “Loving” Movie

The Lovings

The Lovings

Hollywood is producing a new film about Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for violating a Virginia  law prohibiting interracial marriage. Ruling on a lawsuit they filed in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against mixed marriages.

In a press release, Governor Terry McAuliffe Thursday said, “Loving is a significant American story that should be told.” The film will be shot in the state, creating local jobs and highlighting “Virginia’s historical significance.”

I’m not sure that Jim Crow-era laws forbidding “miscegenation” is the kind of “historical significance” Virginia wants to bring attention to. But there is an opportunity, if McAuliffe will embrace it, to highlight how much Virginia has changed since the 1950s. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2010 Virginia had the highest rate  of black-white intermarriage of any state in the country. Of the 156,000 marriages involving whites in Virginia, 3.3% were with blacks. The only states that came close were North Carolina (3.2%) and Kansas (3.0%).

Let’s not let “Loving” give people the mistaken impression that Virginia is stuck in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way — longer than most. Let’s make sure we let people know it.

– JAB

A City No Longer Obsessed by Race

richmond_by_race

Source: Hamilton Lombard, StatChat

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond reached a quiet demographic tipping point about five years ago: It stopped being a majority-African-American city. Movement of blacks into suburban jurisdictions, an influx of whites into the city and a small-but-measurable increase in other races, including people who self-identified with two races, all contributed to the change.

Richmonders appear not to notice. There is a still a widespread perception of Richmond as a black-majority city (and, in fact, blacks still outnumber whites, although by a tiny margin.) African-Americans still dominate city government. Richmond has a black mayor, a black police chief, a black sheriff, a black school superintendent and a black commonwealth’s attorney.

I find it fascinating how little attention anyone is paying to the demographic shift – and what that lack of attention says about our times.

It wasn’t all that long ago — around 1980 — when Richmond, once a white-majority city, tipped into a black-majority jurisdiction, according to Hamilton Lombard, a demographer writing in StatChat, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service blog. Political power shifted to blacks for the first time in a city that had been synonymous with Jim Crow segregation and massive resistance to integration. White flight, part of a national phenomenon, was highly publicized at the time, and local politics were racially polarized.

Now that the demographic pendulum has swing back, nobody seems to notice. Richmond City Council now is majority white, but the shift in racial representation has not resulted in calls for white racial patronage. Everybody’s focus seems to be on promoting economic development, addressing poverty and making city government function more effectively. (One can argue how well the city is faring on those fronts, but that’s where the focus is.)

Race is less of a divider in other ways. Although there remain hard-core pockets of concentrated, African-American poverty, most neighborhoods are less segregated than they once were, Lombard contends. “The concentration of blacks is beginning to lessen; in 2000, 13 census tracts in Richmond were over 95 percent black, but by 2013 only 4 of these census tracts were still over 95 percent black,” he writes. “During this same time period, the black population in the Richmond metro area’s suburban counties grew quickly as many of the city’s black residents moved to them.”

While the city continues to expand its housing base through infill and redevelopment, allowing for continued population growth, Lombard thinks it may never return to white-majority status. One big reason:

The number of people living in Richmond who describe themselves as being more than one race has tripled since 2000 to a little under 9,000. This is likely in part due to Virginia having the highest rate of marriage between blacks and whites in the country, but also because as racial identity means increasingly less today, many people are identifying with more than one race, some even writing in their own race. Considering how much publicity the last major demographic change in Richmond received, the lack of attention given to the current one reveals how much Richmond itself has changed.

Racial identity politics is such a powerful force nationally that it’s hard to imagine that Richmond — the former capital of the Confederacy and locus of massive resistance, as some like to continually remind us — could be so lackadaisical and unaware of a shift that once would have been regarded as so profound. That is a sign of tremendous progress, and it augurs well for the future.