Category Archives: 2012

The New Geography of Jobs

by James A. Bacon

The New Geography of Jobs” is arguably the most important book about urban economics published in 2012. Author Enrico Moretti, an Italian-born economics professor at Berkeley, analyzes the great divergence occurring between metropolitan regions in the United States. While much of his narrative about the “innovation” sector as the key driver in regional growth will be familiar to readers of Richard Florida, Moretti provides a valuable counter-balance to Florida’s theories about the creative class.

Just as Florida ascribes remarkable wealth-creating properties to the “creative class,” Moretti puts the innovation sector — referring primarily to high-tech industry clusters — at the center of his analysis. While Florida suggests that members of the creative class gravitate to metropolitan areas that offer a particular set of attitudes (openness, tolerance) and amenities (urban cafe lifestyle, street arts scene), Moretti argues that the economic logic of labor markets are the driving factor.

To Moretti, metropolitan regions are labor pools. The labor that really matters in a knowledge economy is college-educated labor. And what matters even more than generic college-educated labor is labor with technology-related competencies in demand by the corporations that create innovative products and services. “In the world of innovation,” Moretti writes, “productivity and creativity can outweigh labor and real estate costs.”

Thus, a region like San Francisco/San Jose can have outrageous costs of living and doing business yet tech businesses migrate there because that’s where the talent is. And talent moves there because that’s where the jobs are. By doing a better job of matching employers with workers, the productivity-enhancing advantages of “thick” labor markets like Silicon Valley’s more than compensate for the region’s higher costs.

There are two other critical benefits to industry clustering, Moretti writes. Innovation clusters attract investment capital, which funds and nurtures  business start-ups. And clusters have what he calls almost “magical” spillover effects. “New ideas are rarely born in a vacuum. Research shows that social interactions among creative workers tend to generate learning opportunities that enhance innovation and productivity. This flow and diffusion of knowledge represents a crucial third advantage for workers and firms that locate within an innovation cluster.”

Thus, regions with strong knowledge clusters tend to grow, attracting both corporations and employees. Regions with weak knowledge clusters tend to remain weak. A third class of cities, which are caught in between, have uncertain futures.

The great public policy question for wanna-be growth centers is how to jump-start an innovation cluster. Broadly speaking, regions have followed two types of approaches. One is a demand-side approach, attracting employers with the hope that workers will follow. The other is the supply-side approach, improving a city’s amenities to lure talented workers in the hope that corporations will come. Following (and often misinterpreting) the theories of Richard Florida, many regions have invested public resources in a futile effort to make themselves “cool” and attract the creative class.

Moretti demolishes that reasoning: “It is certainly true that cities that have built a solid economic base in the innovation sector are often lively, interesting, and culturally open-minded. However, it is important to distinguish cause from effect. The history of successful innovation clusters suggests that in many cases, cities became attractive because they succeeded in building a solid economic base, not vice versa.”

Seattle, for instance, was a dump before Microsoft landed there and created a thick labor market for Amazon.com and a swarm of technology start-ups. Now the region is the epitome of cool. Conversely, Berlin may be the coolest city in Europe from the perspective of artistic creativity, Moretti argues. But technologically, it ranks low on the innovation index, and its income is lower than many other German cities.

What, then, can regions do? Building world-class universities is no panacea. For every Stanford/Silicon Valley, there’s a Johns Hopkins/Baltimore. How about a “big push” industrial policy — targeting a growth industry with public investment? Such approaches might be successful, he contends, but they are very expensive and very risky. Governments chase fads; they are not good at picking winners and losers. How about investing in schools and universities to create home-grown human capital? Great idea, except in the absence of local innovation clusters, the talent will move away. Regions subsidize the development of someone else’s workforce.

At times, Moretti sounds as if the rise of innovation clusters is a matter of serendipity, beyond the ken of government policy wonks to manipulate. Who could have predicted the rise of Microsoft? Who could have predicted its transformative effect on Seattle? One of the few tangible policy proposals he advances is to reform immigration policy to encourage well-educated foreigners (not unlike himself) to settle in the United States. They contribute disproportionately to wealth creation. Of course, they, too, tend to migrate to the nation’s main innovation centers.

Bacon’s bottom line: Other than to replicate Seattle by giving rise to a Microsoft-scale success story — in other words, by getting lucky — there is no simple answer. I distrust industrial policy of picking industries, whether conducted at the national level or the regional level. And the pseudo-Creative Class approach of investing scarce public resources in urban amenities that attract young, educated workers is equally problematic unless corporations can be recruited or businesses launched to hire them.

My inclination is to stick with the basics. Government should focus on a few things and do them well. Here in Virginia, and throughout American, that means reforming key broken institutions — K-12, higher ed, health care, transportation and land use — while keeping taxes as low as practicable and the business climate as hospitable as possible. I do think there is a role for making regions attractive to the creative class but those initiatives are best left to the civic realm. In sum, regional success is like personal success — the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Taxes and the Urban Mobility Revolution

The future of urban automobility. Graphic Credit: “Reinventing the Automobile.”

by James A. Bacon

Et tu, Hugo?

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has proposed eliminating Virginia’s motor fuels tax and replacing it with a 0.9% increase in the state sales tax, the Times-Dispatch reports today. That measure, combined with the allocation of an additional 0.5% of the sales tax to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, would raise a half billion dollar more for transportation in Virginia per year.

Hugo’s proposal follows a measure submitted by Governor Bob McDonnell to transfer a sliver of revenue from the sales tax to transportation, a bill sponsored by Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, to hold a Hampton Roads referendum for a regional sales tax increase, and a bill sponsored by Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, to increase the wholesale tax on motor fuels.

Under political pressure from local governments and business lobbies to “do something,” the General Assembly is more inundated than Superstorm Sandy with ideas for hiking transportation taxes. But it’s drier than the Sahara when it comes to ideas for ensuring that the money is spent effectively, much less to advance a transportation system for the 21st century. The only figure who halfway makes sense is House Speaker William Howell, who says he might put the brakes on any tax increase because the legislature does not have time during its 45-day session to craft major legislation.

I have little confidence that Virginia’s political class will come to its senses in a year’s time, but we can always pray that the wildebeest-like stampede to higher taxes might relent long enough for reason to take hold ever so briefly.

What would a reasoned approach to transportation reform look like? For starters, it would recognize that the United States (and indeed the world) is on the brink of the greatest revolution in mobility since the invention of the automobile more than a century ago. We can either squander money on 20th-century transportation strategies, which are increasingly obsolete, or we can invest money in projects that will help us pioneer the future in a way that will make Virginia more livable, sustainable and economically competitive.

Every elected official in Virginia, every lobbyist and every civic leader needs to read “Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century.” This slender, amply illustrated volume describes how the Information Technology revolution is transforming the automobile into something that no one imagined even five years ago.

As the co-authors observe, today’s automobiles are way over-engineered. “Today a typical automobile weighs 20 times as much as its driver, can travel over 300 miles without refueling, is able to attain speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, requires more than 100 square feet for parking, and is parked 90 percent of the time.” By designing cars to specifications that match the requirements of personal urban mobility, it soon will be possible to mass produce vehicles that reduce mass, save energy, ameliorate congestion and diminish the space consumed by parking — all while dramatically cutting the cost of automobile ownership and supporting infrastructure.

“Reinventing the Automobile” describes four inter-locking developments. The first is the emergence of a new “automotive DNA” allowing for Ultra Small Vehicles (USVs). These electric vehicles designed for urban use, prototypes of which have already been built, weigh less than 1,000 pounds, have top speeds of 25-35 miles per hour, have a travel range of 40 miles or so and take up one-third the space of conventional automobiles.

The second trend is the rise of the “Mobility Internet,” in which USVs equipped with sensors and wireless are able to communicate with one one another, allowing them to travel safely at closer distances, effectively increasing the capacity of urban roads. Eventually these cars will be capable of driving on auto-pilot, which will make them safer.

A third development is the integration of electric USVs with the smart grid, in which electric power companies use time-of-day pricing to balance load demand and offset the cost of green but intermittent power sources like solar and wind power. Eventually, hydrogen fuel cells will replace conventional batteries to extend the range of electric vehicles.

Fourthly, advances in IT and sensor technology will make it possible to develop electronically managed, dynamically priced markets for electricity, scarce roadway capacity, parking and even shared-ownership vehicles. “These markets … will depend on ubiquitous metering and sensing, make use of powerful computational back-ends, provide price signals and incentives that regulate supply and demand, and motivate sustainable activity patterns within cities.”

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. Many pieces of the system are coming into the market already, and the technology for the rest is under development. The impact on urban development will be mind-boggling. Imagine how human settlement patterns will change if the new technology makes it possible to boost the capacity of existing streets and thoroughfares while narrowing lanes and slashing the footprint devoted to parking spaces. Just think of how much more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly we can make our communities. Imagine how much more livable densely populated urban areas will become. Write the authors:

Over time, as this process gathers momentum, we will see the increasing emergence of cities that provide high levels of personal mobility but are safer, quieter, cleaner, more livable, more energy efficient, and more sustainable that those of today. Cities that don’t adapt fast enough will find themselves at an increase competitive disadvantage with those that do.

Here’s what really gets me. You’d think Northern Virginia’s super tech-savvy businesses would get it. IT is their business. The integration of complex systems is their business. But where are they in this debate? Are they taking the lead? No, they’re backing business-as-usual thinking articulated by the region’s real estate interests. How very, very sad. An extraordinary opportunity is slipping away. Sometimes, I just want to cry.

Addressing the E-tail Sales Tax Dilemma

Small online retailers are under threat by a Congressional initiative that would force them to collect sales taxes for their customers’ home states. “If that happens,” writes Phil Bond, executive director of WE R HERE, “a small online retailer operating from a longtime street-front location, a modest warehouse space or even the owner’s kitchen table will have to deal with ever-changing sales tax rates for nearly 10,000 state and local tax jurisdictions.”

WE R HERE describes itself as the “unified voice of small business retailers all over America,” ranging from Army Redhead MP, a stay-at-home mom in Williamsburg who trades on eBay, to Jonathan Gonzales, of Gainesville, who does PC repair. The “WE” stands for “web enabled.”

Big retailers are backing the Congressional legislation because they have the scale to cope with the added administrative burden while small retailers — many of them operating out of their homes — would suffocate. Small retailers are suffering eroding market share as it is, Bond writes in a Times-Dispatch op-ed. “From 2008-10, “brick & click” retailers with sales of more than $20 million grew their share of online sales from 33 percent to 38 percent, while the share for smaller Web-enabled retailers with sales less than $20 million saw their share erode from 69 percent to 51 percent.”

On the other hand, state and local governments have legitimate beefs as well. E-commerce is trending steadily higher as a percentage of retail sales, and the inability to collect sales taxes is eroding the tax base of state and local governments. Meanwhile, traditional, bricks-and-mortar retailers can legitimately say that they suffer a competitive disadvantage when their customers have to pay a sales tax but those of their online competitors do not.

Bond proposes a sales tax exemption for small retailers. That’s one approach, and probably a politically popular one because it protects mom and pops. But it raises another question: Why should government favor mom-and-pop online retailers any more than, say, mom-and-pop grocery stores, mom-and-pop farms or, for that matter, mom-and-pop media outlets like blogs?  One could just as easily argue that the government should favor larger, better-funded companies that develop the new technologies, new ways of doing business and other innovations that propel the economy forward. I don’t make that argument, I’m just saying that anyone can make an argument to justify favoritism for whomever he wants.

Bacon’s bottom line: A just and efficient tax regime creates a level playing field for all businesses. Winners and losers in the marketplace should be determined by their cost efficiency and appeal to customers — not their ability to persuade politicians to exempt them from taxes that their competitors have to pay. Mom-and-pop e-tailers would do better to seek marketplace solutions to the administrative burden of a tax on online sales than lobbying for exemptions.

Just as technology created the Internet tax dilemma, technology may be able to solve it. At the birth of the online revolution, only a handful of companies could afford to build the back-end ordering and billing machinery for online enterprises. Now that capability is a commodity than anyone can purchase for a nominal monthly fee. If online retailers were required to collect sales tax for the 50 states, it wouldn’t be long before the vendors of e-tailing software added modules that tabulated those liabilities automatically and deposited the funds electronically.

– JAB

In Quest of the Historical Baby Jesus


by James A. Bacon

The Christmas story has been retold so many times in sermons and hymns, in school plays and storybooks, that it has become a part of the national psyche. Every schoolchild knows that Mary and Joseph traveled to the little town of Bethlehem where there was no room at the inn. They sought shelter in a stable where Mary gave birth, and she laid the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by oxen and donkeys. Shepherds came to adore him, and three wise men paid him homage, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Soon after, the wicked king Herod sought to kill the new-born child, and Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt to escape his wrath.

It is a heartwarming tale, and one that few Christians are inclined to question. Yet this story appears in none of the Gospels. It is a composite, a pastiche of clippings from Matthew and snippets from Luke. Anyone who troubles himself to read the nativity narratives of the two evangelists can plainly see that they are incompatible on fundamental points.

Matthew places the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, a tributary to Rome who died in 4 B.C. Luke states that Jesus was born when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, and Palestine was under direct Roman rule — after Herod’s death, around 6 AD.

Saying nothing of a census, Matthew states simply that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that the wise men came to “the house” where he was. The story of the stable and manger comes from Luke.

Matthew speaks of wise men following a star in the east but knows nothing of shepherds; Luke tells of shepherds, saying nothing of wise men.

Where Matthew describes the holy family fleeing from Herod soon after Jesus’ birth, Luke states that his parents took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem eight days later for his circumcision.

The discrepancies in Jesus’ birth date alone have confounded generations of scholars. Historians have diligently searched the archives for Roman census data and have scoured the records for mention of astrological portents — comets, supernovas, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn — that might resemble the mysterious star of the east.

The task of dating Jesus’ birth need not detain us here, yet it is vital in our quest to uncover the historical Jesus to understand the family conditions that molded his personality and shaped his world view. If Jesus truly were conceived by God and a virgin mother, as Luke and Matthew maintain, we would have little choice but to accept the Christian version of his life as written in the Gospels: The overriding influence in his development was his divine status. Were Jesus the natural son of Joseph, as many scholars have suggested, we could argue that he absorbed the same aspirations as most other Jews. But if he were the illegitimate son of Mary, as his detractors charged, we might conclude that Jesus was raised as a social outcast — putting his mission and his life in an entirely new light.

The logical place to commence our study is to review what Jesus said about himself. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to go on. In none of the sayings recorded by the Gospels and Apocryphal writings did Jesus discuss his birth directly. Although he may have referred to himself as the “Son of God” — a term that suggested a spiritual, not a biological kinship — he never mentioned his paternity.

The legitimacy of his birth apparently was not an issue during Jesus’ lifetime. The hostile Pharisees, whose stronghold was Jerusalem and the southern province of Judaea, apparently knew little about his personal background. “We don’t know where he comes from,” John quotes them as saying. Understandably so. Their contacts did not extend to the tiny provincial town of Nazareth in the northern province of Galilee. If there had been any tongue wagging in Nazareth about Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees would not have been privy to it. But it was general knowledge that Jesus hailed from Galilee — and it was precisely this point that the Pharisees seized upon. They argued that the Messiah would not come from Galilee: “Hath not the scriptures said that Christ cometh out of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem where David was born?”

Rebutting the popular opinion expressed by the Pharisees, Jesus asserted that the Messiah need not be descended from King David. In the Psalms, he noted, David referred to God as “Lord.” If David paid obeisance to God as his superior, Jesus asked, how could God (or his agent, the Messiah) be David’s son?

Logical, perhaps. But why did the scribes raise the question and why did Jesus bother to counter it? Because Jesus could not trace his lineage back to David. Had he been able to document a Davidic ancestry, his opponents would not have attacked his humble Galilean origins. Had he been descended from David, he would not have taken issue with the popular belief.

Extrapolating from this exchange – the one instance in which Jesus was recorded commenting upon his ancestry — we can safely say that he was not descended from David. As a corollary, we can assert that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph who, according to both Luke and Matthew, was of David’s lineage. Both evangelists attempted to trace Jesus’ Davidic descent through Joseph, and then undercut their own tortuous arguments by denying Joseph’s paternity. Matthew put it this way: Joseph was “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” Luke was equally awkward, referring to Jesus, who was “as was supposed” the son of Joseph. Read more.

Suburban Redevelopment in Merrifield Wins NYTimes Nod

EYA Townhomes in the Mosaic district

Taking notice of redevelopment in the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, The New York Times has suggested that this “suburban wasteland in Virginia” is at last getting an urban feel.

The centerpiece of the suburban makeover is the 31-acre Mosaic district, a project of Columbia, S.C.-based Edens, a private retail developer. When fully built out, the mixed-use project will include 500,000 square feet of retail and 1,000 residential units. Writes Alison M. Rice for the NYTimes:

In the Mosaic District, Edens grouped its tenants by type, clustering specialty grocers such as MOM’s Organic Market close to a butcher, fish market and wine shop, for example. “Mixed use has relied on food of all kinds as its primary anchor, from Whole Foods to Harris Teeter and restaurants of all types,” said Maureen McAvey, a retail specialist with the Urban Land Institute in Washington. “As bookstores closed, food has become even more important” to retail development.

Trendy new retail concepts are great, but they may not prove enduring. What Merrifield still really needs is the sought-after “walkability” factor, and that, in Rice’s appraisal, remains elusive. “Intended as a pedestrian-friendly town center and less than a mile from a Metro station,” she writes, “Mosaic is still best reached for many visitors by car or bus, rather than on foot, because of traffic on nearby roads.”

Six decades of disastrous land use decisions will not be reversed by a single project. The vast quilt that is Fairfax County, home to more than one million residents, can be repaired only one patch at a time. Fortunately, developers like Eden are quick to respond to changing market preferences and local government leadership seems willing to let the county evolve.

JAB

The IT Revolution Cometh. Will It Passeth Virginia Transportation By?

Mapping analysis of San Fransisco-area freeways. Source: UC Berkeley News Center.

by James A. Bacon

The spread of smart phones and car navigators equipped with GPS technology is making it easier than ever to measure automobile traffic, and some transportation planners are putting the data to good use. In northern Spain, for instance, the Basque Traffic Control Centre is using GPS data from TomTom navigation systems to inform decision making.

TomTom has compiled the world’s largest car-centric database, containing more than six trillion individual points of data and adding five to six billion new measurements from customers daily. The Basques use the data to get real-time feedback on the effectiveness of traffic-calming measures such as traffic lights, speed bumps and roundabouts.

“The detail contained within the TomTom database has given us a much better insight into how our traffic schemes are working,” Ignacio Eguiara, head of Basque traffic investigation told ITS International. “We have been able to learn lessons that mean we are now able to plan new schemes far better and often more cost-effectively than before.”

Using GPS data from cell phones, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California-Berkeley have found that drivers do not contribute equally to traffic congestion. According to the UC Berkeley News Center, canceling or delaying the trips of one percent of all drivers across a road network would reduce delays caused by congestion by about three percent. But canceling the trips of one percent of drivers from carefully selected neighborhoods would reduce the extra travel time for all other drivers in a metropolitan area by as much as 18 percent.

Said Alexandre Bayen, a Berkely engineering and computer science professor: “Reaching out to everybody to change their time or mode of commute is thus not necessarily as efficient as reaching out to those in a particular geographic area who contribute most to bottlenecks.”

Bacon’s bottom line: It remains to be seen whether this particular MIT-Berkely study will translate into changes in transportation policy, but it demonstrates the unprecedented level of analysis that GPS technology and massive data-crunching capabilities make possible. The information technology revolution is changing the rules of transportation planning.

The IT revolution is penetrating even the dark corner of Virginia, which under Governor Jim Gilmore had fancied itself the “digital dominion,” but, since then, seems to have abandoned any pretext of digital leadership. The newly opened 495 Express Lanes uses state-of-the-art traffic-monitoring technology to adjust its variable tolls. Of course, 495 Express Lanes is a private-sector venture. (I will profile the 495 Express Lanes control center very shortly and hope to visit the VDOT control center in Northern Virginia next month to get a better feel of how far IT has infiltrated the Virginia’s transportation sector.)

Meanwhile, Virginia’s political conversation about the need for new sources of transportation revenue — the only question asked is where to get the money, not how to invest it more wisely — seems oblivious to the technology tsunami rolling across the globe.

While the Basques race ahead, Virginians prattle about building a “transportation system for the 21st century” while investing billions in a transportation system that seems awfully reminiscent of the 20th. Our imaginations seem terribly stunted. Truly, the idea of building smarter roads rather than more roads should not be so hard to gasp.

Dem Congressmen Urge Delay of U.S. 460

In a letter dated yesterday, one day before the McDonnell administration announced the closing of the $1.4 billion U.S. 460 upgrade, Virginia’s three Democratic congressmen urged state and local officials to delay implementation of the project  to make sure it is “properly viewed and analyzed.”

The tolled highway between Suffolk and Petersburg would carry only 8,700 vehicles a day when it opens in 2018 but would have substantial impact on “valuable wetlands and other natural resources,” states the letter, signed by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11; Bobby Scott, D-3rd; and Jim Moran, D-8th.

VDOT’s underwhelming traffic projections for the project are of particular concern considering the transportation funding challenges we face at both the Federal and State levels. A decision to divert a significant portion of limited transportation funding to build a new Route 460, which has such low traffic congestion that it twice failed to generate private sector interest in constructing and operating the toll road in exchange for revenue, must be examined in a thorough and transparent fashion.

We believe that Virginia’s scarce transportation dollars must be prioritized and directed toward the Commonwealth’s most critical transportation needs, such as financing the third crossing of the Hampton Roads, reducing the proposed excessive tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels in Norfolk, expanding I-64 between Richmond and Newport News, and numerous critical project in Northern Virginia.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet granted the permits for the project and “numerous” state legislators and local officials have raised questions about the project, noted Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Now, with the Congressional inquiry, there may be additional and much needed scrutiny of the project, the contracts for which hopefully have contingency clauses allowing the state to cancel or withdraw from the contract.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Do three Democratic congressmen and the Army Corps of Engineers answering to a Democratic Obama administration have enough pull to delay the project? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

— JAB

U.S. 460 Upgrade a Done Deal

The McDonnell administration touts U.S. 460 as an economic development project, not a congestion-relief project.

The McDonnell administration has closed on a deal to finance, design and build a new U.S. 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg, providing the Hampton Roads region an interstate-quality alternative to Interstate 64 to connect with the interstate highway system.

The $1.4 billion project has been justified as a cost-effective way to promote the competitiveness of the Virginia ports, attract major industrial investment,  enhance the connectivity between military installations, create an additional hurricane evacuation route and allow visitors a more predictable route for reaching tourist destinations.

“There is a clear and critical need for the new U.S. 460,” said Governor Bob McDonnell in a press release announcing the close. “Today, the Commonwealth is finally delivering on that need and building a project that will not only make transportation better for the southeastern region and the state, it will also generate jobs and economic development opportunities, bringing extensive long-term benefits in so many ways.”

US 460 Mobility Partners, a for-profit partnership of Ferrovial Agroman, S.A. and American Infrastructure, will design and build the project. The non-profit Route 460 Funding Corporation of Virginia will issue bonds, set toll rates, collect tolls and operate the highway.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will contribute $903 million to the project, while the Virginia Port Authority will kick in another $250 million. Toll-backed bonds will account for only $243 million — or roughly one-sixth of the total cost.

The project never generated much outright opposition, although some Hampton Roads planners and business interests said the highway was a lower priority than other projects that would have relieved traffic congestion in the region’s urban core. Smart Growth groups faulted the Public Private Partnership Act process for giving the public insufficient time to review and respond to the final deal terms. Also, they say, the McDonnell administration never gave serious consideration to less expensive alternatives, nor did the Commonwealth Transportation Board ever weigh the state’s $900 million investment against competing rail, transit or local road projects.

The U.S. 460 toll road is scheduled to open in 2018.

— JAB

Another Reason Why It Sucks to Be A Foster Child: Identity Theft

As if foster children didn’t have enough problems in their lives, it turns out that they are disproportionately likely — as many as one in 30 — to be victims of identity theft. A wide variety of individuals, including parents, extended family members, social workers, foster parent and others, have access to their social security numbers and identifying information. Misuse of that data may not be discovered until the youth strikes out on his own and applies for a cell phone, job, student loan or apartment.

State and federal laws mandate that annual credit checks be conducted on all youth, age 16 and older, in foster care. A new report to the General Assembly, “Implementing Annual Credit Checks for Children in Foster Care,” discusses what the Virginia Department of Social Services has done to implement the law and enumerates next steps.

– JAB

IG of the Day: Disability Rates in Virginia


This map, produced by the Weldon Cooper Center’s Demographics & Workforce Group, shows 2011 disability rates in Virginia’s working-age population by public use microdata area (PUMA).

According to the analysis of Rebecca M. Tippett in “Working-Age Virginians with Disabilities,” working-age Virginians with a disability are (1) significantly older and more likely to be black, (2) more likely to have low levels of education, be out of the labor force, and rely on public assistance programs, and (3) disproportionately distributed throughout the state. The highest working-age disability rates are in parts of the Southwest, Southside, and Valley regions.