Category Archives: Demographics

Rural Exodus, Metro Influx Continue Unabated

The population of Virginia’s rural counties and small towns continues to shrink. Reports Radio IQ: “Large parts of Southwest Virginia are disappearing. That’s according to new numbers from the Census Bureau that show places like Wise County, Henry County, Buchanan County — they’re all significantly smaller than they were a decade ago. Tazewell County alone has lost 10% of its population in the last decade.

Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia… The U.S. Census Bureau’s new estimates for population as of July 2019 peg Fairfax County’s total at 1,140,795, according to Inside NoVa. That’s an increase of 0.3% from the year before and a growth rate of 6.4% from the last census eight years earlier. Arlington County’s population grew 14.4%, Fall Church’s by 20.3% and Loudoun County’s by 30%.

The demographic shift is inevitable. The economic logic of the knowledge economy favors large metropolitan areas over small metros, small towns and countryside. The same thing is happening all around the world, and it is pointless to fight it. The challenges for Virginia are twofold: How do rural jurisdictions shrink gracefully and how do fast-growth metropolitan areas accommodate the population influx?

Counting Death, Refugees and Migration in 1860s Virginia

Bacon’s Rebellion has been wallowing in history as of late, so we can’t pass up the latest research from the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia analyzing the impact of the Civil War on Virginia’s population.

The war was bloody, of course. Recent historians have estimated the total number of military deaths around 750,000. Census data indicate that the white, male, military-age population in the South was nearly 25% smaller after the war than would have been expected without the war. But that doesn’t include the effects of economic destruction, the flight of refugees, the movement of slaves seeking emancipation, or disruption to the pre-war migration to western states. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Economic Research Edition

I periodically check the research papers coming out of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) because they often address issues of interest to Bacon’s Rebellion. The research is far more rigorous from a methodological perspective than the work product of special-interest and advocacy groups, hence more worthy of serious consideration — even when it leads to public-policy implications I don’t like! Here are some quick hits from recent studies:

“The Effects of Rent Control Expansion on Tenants, Landords, and Inequality: Evidence from San Francisco”
“We find rent control increased renters’ probabilities of staying at their addresses by nearly 20%. Landlords treated by rent control reduced rental housing supply by 15%, causing a 5.1% city-wide rent increase.”

Implications: Rent control benefits existing renters but punishes newcomers entering the rental marketplace. Can you say “increasing homelessness?” As zoning codes and other restrictive policies aggravate the supply/demand imbalance here in Virginia, will our politicians avoid the temptation to impose rent controls? Continue reading

Welcome to New Jersey: Virginia Out-Migration Edition

A few weeks ago I cited United Van Line data suggesting that more people continued in 2017 to move out of Virginia than moved in. Now Hamilton Lombard at the University of Virginia’s Demographic Research Group has confirmed the trend using Internal Revenue Service data.

Total population continued to grow last year thanks to natural population increase, but the overall rate slowed due to continued out-migration, Lombard reported in the StatChat blog. The sustained emigration trend represents a marked departure from previous decades. Continue reading

Crazy, Diverse Asians

Breakdown of Virginia’s Asian population by country of origin, 2017. Image source: StatChat blog

In their obsession with identity politics and racial/ethnic classification, federal and state governments in the United States classify millions of Americans as “Asian.” From a sociological perspective, “Asian” is a meaningless term. Asia is the world’s largest continent and has more diverse indigenous populations than any other. As this graphic from the University of Virginia’s Statchat blog makes clear, Virginians classified as “Asian” include people who trace their ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan, and many other countries. These people do not share a common language, culture, or history. Continue reading

More People Still Moving Out of Virginia than Moving In

Virginia is still leaking population through out-migration, according to the most recent United Van Lines national movers study, which tracks customers’ state-to-state migration patterns in 2018. The gap between those moving into the state and moving out was small — 48.4% inbound compared to 51.6% outbound, but it continues a discouraging trend of the past several years and seemingly cements the robust in-migration of previous decades.

Dig into the numbers, however, and there were some consolations.

Continue reading

Map of the Day: Virginia’s Disabled Populations

In Lee County, Virginia’s westernmost jurisdiction, more than one quarter of the population (25.7%) has a disability, according to American Community Survey data. The rate of disabilities — physical or mental impairments that limit a person’s ability to work — is almost as high in neighboring counties, as shown in this map produced by the Virginia Public Access Project. Virginia’s most economically depressed jurisdictions tend to have the highest disability rates. Economy and disability… which is the chicken and which is the egg?

Go South, Old Man, Go South

Haha! I got a chuckle out of this chart published in Investors Business Daily, a notorious “climate denier” publication. With climate-change warriors hyping the disastrous economic impact of climate change on the human economy, you’d think people would be moving north. But it turns out they’re moving south…. toward warmer climes! Writes IBD:

More than 2.5 million people moved into hurricane-prone states like Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Texas from 2010 to 2017. Florida alone had a net in-migration of more than 1 million. (Only Louisiana lost population over those years.) That’s despite constant alarms about how climate change will make hurricanes more frequent and intense.

Of course, as even IBD concedes, the Northeastern and Midwestern states also happen to be states with higher taxes and regulations, while Southern states, the biggest population gainers, tend to have lower taxes and fewer regulations. So the move south may be driven by economics more than a love of warmer temperatures.

Moreover, there are reasons to worry about CO2 rise and climate change other than the impact on human economies, such as the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs, devastation to wildlife habitats on the land, and stress on endangered species as habitats migrate north faster than than the species can. But the human species spent most of its existence evolving in Africa with its warmer climes and is more at home in warm weather than cold. Economic studies of the cost of climate change tend to look only at costs, not benefits. Thus, they overlook the quality-of-life gain from living in warmer climes — as affluent retirees, who are free to live anywhere,  prove by the hundreds of thousands every year.

Statewide School Enrollment Declined in 2018

After decades of steady enrollment growth, Virginia’s public school system had 2,000 fewer students in 2018 than the year before. The trend is not uniform geographically; enrollment is still increasing in some school systems while it is falling in others. But the net result statewide is fewer students statewide, according to our favorite demographer, Hamilton Lombard, publishing in the StatChat blog. Continue reading

Virginia’s Disconnected Youth

Source: StatChat Blog.

Virginia’s overall unemployment rate has been declining steadily for years, reaching 3.2% in June 2018. But youth unemployment remains disconcertingly high. Indeed roughly 10% of the state’s 16- to 24-year-olds are “disconnected” from the labor force, neither working nor pursuing an education, reports Shonel Sen, a researcher with the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.

Living up to stereotype, almost 60% of disconnected youth still live with parents. A majority of the economic dropouts are white, although a significant minority are black, Sen writes in the StatChat blog. While one out of five is a high-school dropout, half have high school degrees or GEDs, one out of five has some college, and 7% have B.A. degrees or higher. Continue reading

A Performance Rating for Virginia Local Governments

Click for more legible image.

Goochland County offers the most bang for the buck of the localities in the Richmond metropolitan region, according to a local government rating system devised by the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation.

The rating system compares fiscal indicators such as property tax rates and collections, per capita indebtedness, school spending per capita, and unfunded pension liabilities, as well as outcome metrics such as the clearance rate of crimes, fire department ratings, and Standards of Learning pass rates.

Mark E. Daugherty, former chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and organizer of the rating system, presented the numbers for the Richmond region — plus the City of Norfolk for purposes of comparison to Richmond and Spotsylvania County for comparison to Richmond-area counties — to the Tuesday Morning Group, a monthly gathering of conservative and libertarian activists. The 20 counties and cities analyzed so far represent 23% of Virginia’s population. The group also has completed research on several Shenandoah County jurisdictions, and is now working on an analysis of Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

The purpose of collecting the statistics, says Daugherty, is to arm citizens and elected officials with data to stimulate questions and new ideas on how local governments and schools can improve performance. (Read more about the initiative here.)

Bacon’s bottom line: The Tea Party data represents a starting point for evaluating local government, not a finish line. Inevitably, the selection of one data set over another entails a value judgment and affects the ratings. Including other data sets would add more texture and context. But it’s a darn good start.

My sense from a brief conversation is that Daugherty acknowledges the difficulties that local governments and school systems are grappling with, especially urbanized cities with a large percentage of lower-income residents. Clearly, a down-in-the-dumps city such as Petersburg has much greater challenges than an affluent exurban county such as Goochland. Still, by highlighting Goochland, the rating system does suggest — not prove, just suggest — that Goochland is doing something right. Perhaps counties with comparable demographics and economic assets should take a look. After all, the purpose of the exercise is to stimulate questions and deeper analysis.

It would be easy for some to take issue with the methodology or criticize the source — ew, it’s the Tea Party! — but Daugherty and his colleagues have expended considerable effort without any overt agenda to identify and publish local government input and performance numbers, which is more than you can say for anyone else.

Virginia’s Not-So-Crazy Rich Asians

Graph credit: StatChat

Once the victims of discrimination, Asians now are prospering in the United States. The median income in 2017 for Asians in the United States was $83,500. That compared to a national average of $60,300 — a 38% differential.

In Virginia, Asians’ incomes, and the income gap with other Americans, was even greater: $101,500 compared to $71,500, a 42% differential. Indeed, Virginia is the state with the second highest average median household income for Asians, second only to New Jersey.

Why do Asians out-perform other racial and ethnic groups? One reason is that they cluster in urban areas, where wage levels are higher. You don’t see many Asian farmers or mill workers in the United States. (When I lived in Martinsville nearly 40 years ago, I knew a Korean textile mill foreman, a former bodyguard of a South Korean dictator, who had been exiled for some reason that I can no longer remember. But his family was the only Korean household in town.)

Another reason, according to the StatChat blog, published by the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia, is that Asians are represented disproportionately in high-paying STEM-H occupations such as health care; architecture & engineering; life, physical and social science; and computer & mathematical.

Virginia’s Asians are a highly diverse group encompassing Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indians and Pakistanis, so we have to be careful with generalization. One thing all of these groups share, however, is strong, intact families that uphold the institution of marriage and insulate children from the corrosive temptations of popular culture. Generally speaking, Asian kids work harder at school, they are more likely to succeed academically, they are more likely to attend and complete college, and they are more likely to choose academically challenging career paths that lead to higher-paying jobs. Oh, and when the IRS calculates income, Asians are more likely to belong to two-income households.

The emphasis on academic achievement can be seen in comparisons of Standards of Learning test scores.

Not only do Asian students out-perform all other ethnic groups, including whites, disadvantaged Asian students out-performed their disadvantaged peers in other ethnic groups. Remarkably, disadvantaged Asian students out-performed all blacks and Hispanics. Some of the disparity in academic achievement may be attributable to the fact that academic performance is correlated with income and that Asian students belong to higher-income households. But the achievements of disadvantaged Asian students demonstrates something else is going on.

That something, I would argue, is a familial culture that values intact family structures, academic achievement, self-discipline, and a propensity to defer gratification. Singapore Asians may be “crazy,” to riff off the title of the popular movie, “Crazy Rich Asians,” but American Asians are anything but. More than any other group, Asians embody the virtues that made this country great. That’s why they have engendered so little ethnic animosity in contemporary society, and almost all Americans are happy to see them succeed.

Some School Districts Do a Better Job Educating Poor Kids than Others


I’m playing around with Datawrapper, which provides cool ways to display data– don’t quite have the hang of it, but making progress. Anyway, my inaugural effort shows the considerable variability between school districts in pass rates for English Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

We all know that the socio-economic status of a student is a major predictor of their academic achievement. Because school districts draw their student bodies from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, it is not fair to compare the academic achievement of Virginia school districts without adjusting for demographics. Therefore, for this map I compare the English SOL pass rate for disadvantaged kids, kids who are poor enough to qualify for free school lunch.

Virginia school districts range from an 87.5% pass rate for disadvantaged kids in West Point, a mill town on the edge of Hampton Roads, to 49.3% for Danville, a mill town in Southside; and from 85.96% in Highland County, the locality with the smallest population in Virginia, to 51.68% in the City of Richmond, the state capital.

If disadvantaged kids in Danville, Petersburg, and the City of Richmond have dismal standardized test results, local educators can’t blame the outcomes on poverty alone. Other localities have poor kids, too, but they have significantly better outcomes. What could explain the variability between school districts?

One possibility is that some districts spend more money per student than others. Perhaps West Point and Highland County spend more per student than Danville and Richmond. The “more money” hypothesis seems less than plausible from a superficial look at the map above, which shows that the pass rates for disadvantaged kids tend to be lower in the affluent Northern Virginia localities. But maybe there’s an explanation that transcends spending per student. Maybe Northern Virginia school districts have more hard-to-educate English-as-a- Second-Language students. The issue warrants closer examination.

Another explanation of the variability seen in the map might be that poverty is worse in some localities than others — not more widespread, but more intense and socially destructive. In cities like Richmond, Petersburg and Danville perhaps the poverty is more concentrated in a few neighborhoods, or poor kids are more concentrated in a few schools, or the degree of social breakdown and dysfunction is greater.

Yet another potential explanation is that school districts have different racial/ethnic mixes and that different ethnic groups put a greater premium on succeeding academically than others. For example, Asians might study harder than their socioeconomic peers in other racial/ethnic groups. Or Hispanics might encourage their kids to drop out of school, become wage earners and contribute to their families.

Yet another option: Maybe some school districts do a better job with the resources and student populations they have.

Finally, a related possibility: Perhaps the move from traditional disciplinary practices to restorative justice disciplinary practices (my pet theory) has eroded discipline and promoted classroom disorder with deleterious consequences for kids who want to learn.

Clearly, the data in this map tells us only so much. But one limited conclusion does seem inescapable. Blaming poor educational results on the prevalence of “poor kids” in the school district goes only so far.

Assuming I can figure out how to create fully functional maps, I’ll be exploring these competing theories in the future.

A Metric in Which Virginia Does Not Stand Tall

Which state has the tallest people? Not Virginia, that’s for sure. The tallest men live in states the northern Plains, the northern Rockies and Southern/Central Appalachia, according to Centers for Disease Control data mapped by the Washington Post. The states with the tallest women on average are clustered mainly in the northern Plains and Rockies.

Height varies significantly by race. White men are tallest on average (5′ 10″), followed by blacks (5′ 9″). Asian and Hispanic men are shorter on average (5′ 7″). With a demographic makeup that closely resembles America’s, Virginians are close to national norms when measured by height.

Rural Virginia Does Not Need A Marshall Plan

Gov. Gerald L. Baliles

In devastated post-war Europe, millions of people were qualified and eager for jobs or desperate for capital to get their farms planted and harvested.  In demographically-diminishing rural Virginia, farms are mechanized. If you build a huge factory today qualified workers may not come in sufficient numbers.

A scaled-down 21st Century Marshall Plan is a nice rhetorical image, and former Governor Gerald Baliles captured the headlines by using it in a recent speech, but the analogy simply doesn’t fit.  Rural Virginia’s problems cannot be fixed with an infusion of cash.

When Baliles has something serious to say, serious Virginians should read or listen.  After successful turns as legislator, attorney general and governor (pestered but never tripped by the loyal opposition) he returned to private life and never again appeared on the ballot.  That alone sets him apart from today’s career politicians.  He has had a long-standing focus on his native rural Virginia, but his legal career was Main Street Richmond.

“If you were to take the “rural horseshoe” and hold it up against the Golden Crescent, the contrasts are stunning. Two Virginias!  Moreover, according to our community college system officials, if the “rural horseshoe” region were considered a separate state, it would be tied for dead last with Mississippi and West Virginia for educational attainment levels—dead last for citizens with high school diplomas; dead last for citizens with college degrees. Think about that.”

His emphasis on education goes back to his own life experience and that of so many others, my mother’s Southwest Virginia family included.  His critique of Virginia’s failure to hold down higher education costs and provide a high enough share from taxpayer funding is spot on.  As the brisk Bacon’s Rebellion discussions on Richmond’s challenged schools illustrate, however, there are more than two Virginia’s.

The real headline in his talk was the discussion of the Virginia Tobacco Commission’s efforts and the poor results after so many bright ideas, so many grants, and so much money.  I remember the birth of that idea in the Office of the Attorney General under Mark Earley, Randolph Beales, Jerry Kilgore and then Judith W. Jadgmann – three of them with rural roots.  I signed for the first electronic transfer of tobacco settlement funds and the number of zeros made me woozy.

“Arguably, with some exceptions, such as Danville, the rural region of Southside and Southwest Virginia is in worse shape today than 20 years ago when the Tobacco Commission had more than $2 billion to “transform” the region as the legislation required. Look at the educational attainment levels,” Baliles said in his recent speech to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Again, spot on.

Baliles’ idea to focus remaining tobacco settlement funds on educational attainment is a good one, but he also has his eyes on the burst of higher state tax revenue that will result when Virginia conforms to recent federal tax changes.  Never has so little money been earmarked by so many people for so many pet projects:  the earned income tax credit are K-12 school construction and reconstruction top a growing list. (More on that tomorrow.)

Rural Virginia, designated by that rough U-shaped ring of relative poverty around the corridors of wealth, has educational assets.  Baliles notes that 14 of the 23 community colleges are located there, but they are the smaller ones. Their doors are not battered by more applicants then they can handle, in most cases.  Virginia Tech, Radford and Longwood are state universities in the footprint, and the powerful New River Valley economy is fueled by the first two.

The problem is that young people get what education they do and then leave for the bright lights and the land of Uber.  Or they leave to get that next level of education.  For any number of reasons, once they have the opportunity they simply do not  stay in sufficient numbers to become a magnet for high tech or advanced manufacturing jobs in great numbers.  Many who stay lack that educational attainment and the opportunity it brings.

I cannot think of any policy, any economic development strategy, any spending plan coming out of the General Assembly that will change this pattern.