Category Archives: Demographics

IG of the Day: Virginia GINI

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Where is income inequality in Virginia the most severe? College towns like Blacksburg, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, and poor, rural mill-town jurisdictions like Danville and Grayson, Halifax and Greensville Counties.

Where is inequality in Virginia least evident? In the Washington suburbs and a broad swath of rural counties in eastern Virginia.

That’s the insta-analysis of a map published by the Virginia Public Access Project, which shows the GINI coefficient, a measure of income inequality, for Virginia localities based on 2012 data. (Hat tip: Tim Wise.)


Map of the Day: Three Virginias

Source: StatChat blog

Source: StatChat blog

The statistical wonks with the StatChat blog love to depict data in interesting ways. Recently, Luke Juday divvied the Commonwealth into thirds divided by density. In the map above, the yellow mass shows the least densely populated census tracts (fewer than 736 people per square mile), accounting for 94.8% of the state’s land mass. The light green census tracts show the middle third (between 736 and 3,562 per square mile), accounting for 4% of the land mass. Dark green (more than 3,562 per square mile) accounts for 1.2% of the state’s land area. Another way of looking at it: 2/3 of the population lives in 5% of the state’s land mass.


The Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville

“High density” by Virginia standards doesn’t look like Manhattan. Take the Belmont area in Charlottesville. As Juday observes, it’s a neighborhood of mainly single-family houses with a few apartment buildings and stores thrown in. Average density: 5,700 people per square mile.

Writes Juday: “The homes occupy smaller lots and are arranged efficiently via a street grid. The grid makes the area convenient for walking by minimizing travel distance rather than driving time. While most trips in a neighborhood like this will still involve a car, the distances traveled by the cars are shorter. Parking is shared and more dispersed, further conserving space.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Higher density in Virginia doesn’t require packing people into apartment complexes and forcing them onto mass transit. What it takes is building more walkable neighborhoods like Belmont. We could save a lot more farmland, woodland and wildlife habitat. We could reduce expenditure on infrastructure dollars (or, conversely, provide better infrastructure for the dollars we spend). We could reduce driving, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. And we don’t have to enact a slew of new laws and regulations that add more bureaucracy and constrict economic liberty. We just need to remember revive an arcane knowledge — how to build neighborhoods like Belmont — that we once knew.


We’re Not Credit Worthy, We’re Not Credit Worthy


by James A. Bacon

With apologies to Wayne and Garth, the residents of many Virginia credit_scores2communities are not credit worthy, especially downstate. The low scores suggest major weaknesses in the ability of consumers to sustain spending and prop up local economies.

The numbers come from WalletHub, which has ranked U.S. “cities” by the average credit score of their residents. Credit score is a pretty good proxy for a household’s financial health, which makes aggregate numbers a reasonable proxy for consumer health.

I have extracted the credit scores for all Virginia “cities” (I’m not sure how  WalletHub defines “city.” The definition certainly does not coincide with Virginia municipal boundaries.) Yellow indicates areas in Northern Virginia, green Hampton Roads, rose Richmond-Petersburg, and blue smaller cities and metro areas.

I note a few striking patterns. The first is that the consumer health of Northern Virginia remains remarkably strong despite cutbacks in federal spending and the slowdown of the regional economy. Perhaps that should come as no surprise given the high incomes and education levels of the area. There is one noteworthy exception, however: Dumfries, Manassas and Woodbridge — all centered around Prince William County — rank below the national average.

The second pattern is the weakness of the Hampton Roads consumer economy. Outside of the affluent Williamsburg-Yorktown area, the picture is dismal — every area, even Virginia Beach, is below the national average, with some jurisdictions scraping bottom.

The third is the abysmal consumer weakness of Virginia’s older core cities. The residents of Petersburg have nearly the lowest average credit score in the country, ranking in the bottom 1 percentile. Portsmouth, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton and Richmond all look grim.

But there is a silver lining for Hokie fans: Blacksburg has higher average credit-worthiness than Wahoo-dominated Charlottesville!

Illegals Pay up to $300 Million in State-Local Taxes. In the Final Analysis, So What?

Illegal aliens? We don't have no stinkin' illegal aliens.

We come in peace.

by James A. Bacon

There are an estimated 260,000 to 290,000 illegal aliens (“undocumented workers” to those inclined to politically correct thinking) in Virginia. Each year, they pay between $200 million and $300 million in state and local taxes, according to a new report by the Commonwealth Institute. That constitutes between 6.6% to 7% of their household income.

Illegals pay many taxes because they are impossible to avoid, observe authors Aaron Williams and Michael Cassidy. If someone buys grapefruits or gasoline, sales tax is collected regardless of his or her immigration status. Illegals, they say, pay between $106 million and $135 million from this source each year.

Similarly, property taxes cannot be ducked. If an illegal purchases a house, he pays a real estate tax the same as everyone else. If he rents instead, his landlord still pays the tax. While some illegals work off the books, the Commonwealth Institute estimates that between 67% and 75% work for employers who withhold state income taxes from their paychecks. (These pay federal taxes as well, despite being ineligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits.)

Conclude Williams and Cassidy:

The bottom line is that undocumented immigrants make significant contributions to the Virginia economy and tax rolls despite being ineligible for many of the services and benefits they contribute to. In order to develop policies that promote the prosperity of all Virginians, it is essential that debate about immigration broaden to include these important contributions.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Commonwealth Institute provides an important reminder that undocumented workers may be here illegally but they do pay taxes, undercutting the notion that they constitute a fiscal drain on state and local government. In a similar vein, other studies have shown that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. There are legitimate reasons for opposing illegal immigration, and there are illegitimate reasons. The notion that illegals don’t pay taxes is not a legitimate reason.

We should not demonize people who are just trying to better their lives. I would not go as far as Jeb Bush as to say that illegal immigrants are performing “an act of love” by slipping illegally into the country, but I find it hard to fault someone for looking for an opportunity to work.

However, the fact that the motives of illegals are sympathetic does not make it OK for them to be here. The biggest problem, to my mind, is that they compete for jobs with native-born Americans, especially lower-income Americans. If I were a meat packer or construction worker who found his wages depressed by a glut of immigrants who think $8.00 an hour is pretty good money, I would be fully justified in getting up in arms.

The idea that there are “some jobs that Americans just won’t do” is a lot of hooey. There may be some jobs that Americans won’t do at $8 an hour, but Americans will do them for $10 or $12 an hour. Unless someone repealed the law of supply and demand while I wasn’t looking, illegal immigrants put downward pressure on wage levels in lower-income jobs. If you’re looking for inexpensive landscaping or domestic help, that’s a good thing. If you are the landscaper or domestic help, it’s a bad thing.

Where I depart from the Commonwealth Institute analysis is the proposition that we should develop policies to promote the prosperity of “all Americans” — illegals included. No, regardless of how much they pay in taxes, illegals are not our responsibility. Our prime responsibility is to hundreds of thousands of low-income, native-born Americans. Our responsibility is to find ways to raise the wages of Virginians at the bottom of the income ladder without resorting to gimmicks like minimum wage that distort the labor market.

Yes, we should help illegal immigrants but we should do it by encouraging their countries of origin to adopt economic policies that support job creation and wage growth. Mexico has done so well in this regard that there is a net flow of immigrants from the U.S. back to Mexico today. Central American countries are much bigger net contributor of illegals these days. Not surprisingly, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are dysfunctional societies. The preferable solution is to help those countries achieve political and economic stability, not accommodate ourselves to a continued outflow of illegal migrants.

What Virginia Millennials Are Looking For


Source: Wason Center for Public Policy. Click for legible image.

by James A. Bacon

Three out of four Virginia Millennials (belonging to the 18- to 36-year-old age cohort) are largely satisfied with the quality of life in their communities. But local quality-of-life indicators often fall short of what Millennials are looking for, and many are open to moving to other parts  of Virginia or even to other states. So finds a new survey of 2,000 young adults in “Virginia Millennials Come of Age” by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

The survey covered a wide range of topics, including political involvement, civic engagement, personal financial outlook and news sources. But of particular interest to this blog are the questions relating to quality of life. Given that creative and educated young adults contribute disproportionately to a region’s innovation and vibrancy, community leaders need to understand the factors that attract and drive them away.

Judging by the metrics selected, Millennials in Northern Virginia are most satisfied with the quality of life in their communities (despite the traffic!), followed by Hampton Roads. They are less satisfied in the Richmond region, and least satisfied in South/Southwest Virginia.

The metrics include: access to public transportation, walkability, proximity to work and/or school, proximity to parks and shopping, a mix of housing, good public schools, safe neighborhoods, proximity to family, a diverse population, and having enough people of their own age. (Those are all reasonable metrics, but I would argue that the list is incomplete and, therefore, gives an incomplete picture. How about the cost of living? Or the quality of the food scene? Or proximity to arts and culture? Or opportunities to engage in the community — a factor rated highly by Millennials, according to the survey?)

The survey asked respondents to evaluate how important these quality-of-life indicators are when thinking about moving somewhere new, and how well each one describes their present community. The "gap" represents the difference between the two.

The survey asked respondents to evaluate how important these quality-of-life indicators are when thinking about moving somewhere new, and how well each one describes their present community. The “gap” represents the difference between the two. (Click for larger image.)

Wason didn’t analyze the data this way, but I find it interesting that proximity to amenities — work, schools, shopping, entertainment, parks and recreation — all ranked in the top half of the list. The desire for compact communities is reinforced by the identification of “walkable areas” as a priority. It stands to reason that neighborhoods in which amenities are “close” are also more walkable.

Virginia policy makers should pay close attention to this finding as they think about transportation and land use priorities.

The desire for proximity and walkability does not translate into a wholesale endorsement of the Smart Growth agenda, however. The desire for a “range of transportation options” — which presumably includes mass transit — was second lowest on the list. The perceived gap between the ideal and reality was negligible.

Likewise, the desire for a “mix of types and values of housing” was only middling. However, I’m not sure that most respondents had a clear idea of what the question meant. Did they think it referred to communities in which housing was integrated with offices, retail and other amenities — the Smart Growth desiderata? Or were respondents focusing on the importance of “affordable” housing? Two very different things A follow-up survey might delve deeper.

Also interesting is the fact that a “diversity of people in the area” ranked lowest on the list. That may not be a topic that preoccupies the average Millennial as much as it does the academic community.

The old-fashioned values of safe neighborhoods and good public schools also rank high. (It would be interesting to see how Millennials without children compared to Millennials with children in evaluating the importance of public schools. I would be willing to wager that parents consider school quality a lot more than singles do.)

All things considered, the survey results suggest that Virginia lawmakers and civic leaders have cause for concern if they want the state to remain an attractive location for young people. Virginia Millennials are highly mobile, with 65% saying they are thinking about moving within the next five years. Of those, 38% say they would consider moving to somewhere else in Virginia, and 27% somewhere outside of Virginia. Within Virginia, Northern Virginia is by far the most popular destination. Regions in the rest of the state have their work cut out for them.

Southwest Virginia as SOL Outlier

Highest SOL pass rates shown in green, lowest in red.

Highest SOL pass rates shown in green, lowest in red.

It is well known that Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rates at Virginia schools are significantly higher in affluent school districts than in poorer inner-city or rural school districts. The point comes through clearly in the map above, created by Hamilton Lombard on the StatChat blog. (Click through to StatChat to play with an interactive map that can zoom in on specific geographic areas.)

But socio-economic status is not destiny. As Lombard notes: “Southwest Virginia, in particular, has a large number of schools with high SOL pass rates, despite also having some of the highest child poverty rates in the state.”

The Roanoke region, I would add, also performs well by this measure.

I wonder if the same pattern applies to higher-performing students, as measured by the percentage of students who score “proficient” in their SOL tests. It is theoretically possible that western Virginia schools and student bodies are good at attaining basic standards but are less less likely to achieve advanced levels of performance. If western Virginia schools match affluent Golden Crescent suburban kids in the rate of achieving SOL proficiency, then something really remarkable is happening.

I will urge Hamilton to map the distribution of “proficient” students to see what that tells us.


Can Things Get Any Worse? How about Declining Life Expectancy for Middle-Aged Whites?

oxycontinby James A. Bacon

Forgive me for bragging, but if I don’t pat my own back, no one else will do it for me. The latest dismal trend highlighted in the nation’s newspapers, a rising death rate among white, middle-aged Americans, is one that I saw coming five years ago when I wrote “Boomergeddon.” (Technically, I predicted a rising death rate for all Americans, not just white Americans. But trust me, other racial/ethnic groups will follow.)

In a “startling” reversal, reports the Wall Street Journal, worsening substance abuse, mental health and chronic diseases are offsetting positive drivers of midlife mortality such as declining rates of lung cancer. A new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said that the once-inexorable decline in mortality rates among American 45- to 54-year-old whites began reversing in the late 1990s in defiance of trends in other advanced countries and the progress made by American blacks and Hispanics. The uptick was especially notable for less educated whites, but it was visible among better educated whites as well.

The fiscal implications are worrisome. Writes the WSJ: “The authors warned that by the time white people in this age group are eligible for Medicare they could be in worse health than the current elderly generation. That means they could require more expensive care.”

That’s precisely what I worried about in “Boomergeddon.” Everyone knew and appreciated in 2010 when I wrote the book that the population was rapidly aging, and that the massive Baby Boomer cohort was about to swamp the Social Security-Medicare safety net. Largely unappreciated then, by many metrics Boomers’ health was worse than that of their elders — largely because of lifestyle choices. The incidence of obesity and diabetes was increasing among middle-aged Boomers compared to previous generations, but so was Hepatitus C,  substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. I called it the “sex, drugs and rocky road ice cream” phenomenon.

As I wrote then, “The medical costs arising from [Boomers’] life-long self-indulgence — if it feels good, do it! — will be significantly higher than they were for those who came before them.”

The 45- to 55-year-old cohort belongs to Generation X for the most part, not the Boomers, but the outlook for them is looking equally grim. Not only are Americans failing to attain the living standards of their parents, they’re not even living longer.