Category Archives: Demographics

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.

Has NoVa Finally Woken Up?

VA-10.  State Senator Jennifer Wexton (D) hopes to unseat Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District.  A typically gerrymandered Virginia district, the 10th stretches from inside the Capital Beltway to well west of Winchester.  As a resident of the 10th I watch the elections in that district closely.  This one is shaping up to be a doozy.  Far left Jennifer Wexton is running on an anti-Trump platform while trying to avoid taking a position on any issue relevant to the constituents she hopes to represent.  Meanwhile, Barbara Comstock is running as an embarrassed Republican who tries to avoid gazing east at the current occupant of the Oval Office.  Think Nelson Rockafeller in drag.  All in all I think Barbara Comstock has done a better job of explaining herself and focusing on issues that are relevant to her district.  One issue in particular stands out for me – the allegation that Wexton has sold out Northern Virginia during her time in the General Assembly.

Don’t get Wexton’ed.  Recent negative ads run by the National Republican Congressional Committee (presumably) on behalf of Barbara Comstock hit a point that hasn’t been hit before.  The ads call out Jennifer Wexton for her role in the General Assembly’s massive rip off of Northern Virginia.  The 30 second ads are punchy and direct.  One ad has a graphic that shows money raining out of NoVa into Richmond.  It cites high tolls and NoVa – only taxes.  Needless to say, Jennifer Wexton is the highlighted villain.  Another ad shows traffic jams and tolls in NoVa then cuts to a single car effortlessly driving down an otherwise empty road claiming, “The rest of the state rides for free.”  As far as I’m concerned, the ads are completely on target and finally call out the gutless NoVa politicians we have elected for selling out their constituents.

I wish I could drive I295.  For many people from Northern Virginia there certainly seems to be a vast sucking sound coming from the General Assembly in Richmond.  There also seems to be a two class system when it comes to a lot of things including transportation.  Take Richmond for example … the city, not the state government.  The OMB defines the greater Richmond area as comprising thirteen counties, including the principal cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights. As of 2016, it had a population of 1,263,617.  Somehow, this qualifies the area for a 4 lane “beltway” called I295.  Meanwhile, the greater Washington area has a population of 6.1m as of 2016.  It also has a 4 lane beltway in NoVa.  An area with 4.7 times the population of Richmond somehow ends up with the same sized highway encircling it as Richmond gets?  And Jennifer Wexton thinks that’s all fine and dandy?  Comstock’s right – let’s not get Wexton’ed.

Thanks, Barbara.  Jennifer Wexton is hardly alone in selling out her constituents.  All 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election in 2019 including every state politician claiming to represent Northern Virginia.  It’s high time that all of NoVa’s politicians are taken to task for selling out their constituents.  Hopefully these ads and others like them will continue to haunt the comfy re-election dreams of our political class in Northern Virginia.  If our politicians want to argue about their role in grifting NoVa the approach is easy … clearly and quantitatively document the amount of money taken by state and local government in NoVa and compare it to the amount of money spent by state and local government in NoVa.  Then … defend the difference.  I happen to know that a number of General Assembly members from NoVa read this blog (at least occasionally).  Any of you who read this – are you up for the challenge of demonstrating the fairness of your actions vis-a-vis inflows and outflows of money from NoVa?  I won’t hold my breath.

— Don Rippert

Has City Population Growth Leveled Off?

Source: Demographics Research Group at UVa

After a decade of strong growth, the population of Virginia’s cities may be leveling off, says Hamilton Lombard with the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group. The rising cost of housing in Virginia cities is pushing households into neighboring counties, he says.

The major swing group is households with young children. For decades, families with young children moved from cities to counties in search of better schools. After the 2007 recession, Lombard contends on the StatChat blog, many families found it difficult to purchase a home, so they rented in cities where a larger share of the housing stock is rental homes. As a result, the share of children in city populations increased, leading to an unexpected surge in school enrollments in many cities. Over the past 10 years, cities accounted for seven of the 10 fastest-growing school divisions.

Lombard expects cities to hang on to their population gains, but he suggests that continued population growth will be difficult to maintain. The main problem is the difficulty of building new housing. In Virginia cities, vacancy rates are declining, and housing prices are increasing. Prior to the recession, for example, owner-occupied housing in both Charlottesville and Richmond was 27 percent cheaper than in surrounding counties. By 2016, housing was only 12 percent cheaper in Charlottesville and eight percent cheaper in Richmond.

Concludes Lombard:

In the coming years, home construction levels will need to increase for Virginia cities to continue growing at recent rates. Some cities, such as Richmond, have seen more home construction. But building new homes in cities can be difficult; most development in cities is infill which often requires more paperwork and faces more public opposition than greenfield developments.

If cities are not able to supply enough housing to meet demand, the recent trend of falling vacancy rates and rising home prices will likely continue, along with slower population growth.

Bacon’s bottom line: I concur with Lombard’s analysis. Cities have limited space for infill development, and established neighborhoods resist re-development at higher densities. There is a significant unmet demand for walkable urbanism found in the traditional neighborhoods of Virginia’s cities, both large and small, but people have to live somewhere and they will buy what they can afford, even if the surrounding amenities are not what they would prefer. I expect we will see “sprawl by default” — scattered, low-density, single-use development, not because it’s what the market demands but because that’s what counties zoned for in the go-go days of the early 2000s and that’s what’s in the supply pipeline.

Virginia as a Low “Sexism” State


Women of Virginia, great news! Your home state is the least sexist in the South and, though hardly a leader in workplace feminism, comparable in social attitudes to such havens of enlightenment as Maryland, California and Oregon.

That’s according to a new research paper, “The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination,” which examines how sexist attitudes in women’s home town (“formative sexism”) and their current residence (“residential sexism”) affect their workforce participation and earnings. The Washington Post uses the data today to publish the map atop this post in an article entitled, “The most sexist places in America.”

The study is both fascinating and infuriating. It contains some intriguing data about variations in social attitudes toward the role of women in society and displays an extraordinary bias to which the authors seem oblivious. Without a hint of irony they label “sexist,” a pejorative term that has no place in social science, beliefs others might call “traditional attitudes.” I am not competent to critique the authors’ statistical reasoning, but it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that deep and pervasive bias infects the study’s conclusions.

Write the authors:

In principle, sexism might take many forms but we focus on negative or stereotypical beliefs concerning the appropriateness of women engaging in market work rather than home production. Our analysis defines prevailing sexism in a market as the extent to which its residents believe: (i) that women’s capacities are inferior to men’s; (ii) that the family unit is hurt when women focus on activities outside the home; or (iii) that men and women should occupy specific, distinct roles in society.

The authors argue that the “sexist” beliefs of people around her “might affect a woman’s tastes, expectations, and beliefs, and thereby her choices and outcomes.” That’s another way of saying that a woman’s values and priorities are influenced by the culture in which she was raised and in which she is living. When stripped of the pejorative labeling, that’s not a terribly controversial proposition.

For the record I hew to the view that women should be free to pursue whichever path they choose, whether it is in the workplace, at home, or a balance of the two, in a manner that is consistent with their own values. I also think it is perfectly reasonable for women to take into account the views of friends and family members. I consider it extraordinarily demeaning to label as “sexist” a belief that there is value to a woman focusing on raising children, especially young children, at home.

That said, the questions in the national General Social Survey reveal interesting regional variations among both men and women. Consider the following scattergraph:


This contrasts the “sexism” — or traditional attitudes towards women’s roles — of men and women by state. Virginia falls below average in traditional attitudes for both men and women, although it is not far from the center. Also of note, the attitudes of men and women tend to be more similar than many other states.

(I would predict that if it were possible to break down Northern Virginia versus the Rest of Virginia, the great sociological divide in the state, NoVa would look more like Connecticut and RoVa would look more like Georgia.)

As for the study’s conclusion, can anyone doubt that the authors found what they expected to find? They wrap up their article this way: “Prejudice-based discrimination, undergirded by prevailing sexist beliefs, may be an important driver of womens outcomes in the U.S.”

Another way of expressing the data might be: “Women raised with traditional values and living in communities where traditional values predominate are more likely to spend more time raising children and keeping house, to spend less time in the workforce, to advance more slowly up the career ladder, and, accordingly, to get paid less than men on average.” If that constitutes “prejudice-based discrimination undergirded by prevailing sexist beliefs,” then so be it.

Graph of the Day: Virginia’s Declining Fertility Rate

Source: StatChat blog

The number of births in Virginia continues declining, reaching the lowest level in years in 2017 — only 100,248. A decade before, births had numbered 108,884.

Demographers Savannah Quick and Shonel Sen at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia attribute the overall dip in fertility decline to a dramatic decline for 15- to 19-year-olds and 20- to 24-year-olds and a slight increase for 30- to 24-year-olds and 35- to 39-year-olds. In other words, many women are postponing childbirth, not choosing not to have children.

This is a classic good news/bad news story. The good news is that more women are taking control of their fertility in order to pursue education and improve their job prospects before having a child. Modern-day child-raising is an exhausting, all-consuming activity. It is all but impossible for women to hold down a full-time job, raise a child (or children), and continue their education — especially if there’s no father in the picture. The persistence of poverty in a society characterized by abundant avenues for upward mobility is, at its heart, a demographic issue. If lower-income women are having fewer children, fewer children will be raised in poverty.

The bad news is that the United States needs more citizens to enter the workforce and pay payroll taxes to help support a Medicare and Social Security system that is careening toward fiscal insolvency. But incremental changes in fertility are unlikely to make much difference. The Medicare and Social Security trust funds will dissipate before children born today can enter the workforce.

Tax Act Impact on Virginia: 5,782 Jobs

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 will create 218,000 full-time equivalent jobs across the United States this year, asserts the center-right Tax Foundation, which specializes in analyzing the impact of tax policy on the U.S. economy.

Using its Taxes and Growth econometric model, the Tax Foundation provided a job-creation estimate for each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. In Virginia, predicts the model, the economic stimulus of corporate and personal income tax reform will create 5,782 jobs.

That number compares to 20,100 total jobs created between Dec. 2017 and May 2018, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Annualized, Virginia was on track for creating 48,200 jobs in 2018, suggesting that the tax cuts are accounting for about 12% of the state’s job growth.

The tax cuts’ impact on Virginia falls in the middling range compared to other states. The 5,872 jobs created in Virginia amounts to 678 jobs per 1 million population, according to Bacon’s Rebellion calculations. On a jobs-per-population basis, the impact ranges from 1,640 in Washington, D.C. to a mere 110 in Oklahoma, both of which appear to be anomalies. Excluding those two, the impact ranges from 564 jobs per million population in Mississippi to 824 in North Dakota.

 

Let’s Celebrate the Red, White and Blue!


Take this for whatever it’s worth: According to a WalletHub survey based on 13 data points encompassing military service, propensity for voting, volunteerism, and civic engagement, Virginia ranks as the most patriotic state in the United States. (View the ranking and methodology here.)

Alaska, No. 2, is close on our heels. But Virginia has a better balance of military and civic engagement. We rank 5th nationally for military metrics and 10th for civic metrics.

The least patriotic states? Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, in that order. Is anyone surprised?

So, take out your flag this July 4th, wave it around a bit, crank up the grill, set off a few fireworks, and show what real Virginians are made of!

Dillon’s Rule, the RPV and the Marylandization of Virginia

by Don Rippert

Doppler shift from red to blue. As recently as 1977 both of Maryland’s US Senators were Republican.   From 1993 through 2003 Maryland’s eight US House seats were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.   Today, Maryland’s 10 person Congressional delegation consists of 9 Democrats and a lone Republican.  This shift caused Maryland to be routinely rated as one of America’s most liberal states but also one of the worst states for conservatives.

Yes, Virginia there is a trend here too. Maryland last saw a Republican US Senator in 1989, Virginia made it to 2009.  In the state legislature nothing more than pure luck kept Republicans in control of the house.  Republicans still hold the state senate but all of those seats come up in 2019.  Maryland went from light blue to royal blue about 15 years ago and Virginia is tracking 20 years behind Maryland.  Simple math says that Virginia will be fully liberal / Democratic by 2023.  Arguably, the RPV’s recent bungling could accelerate this timeline.

In the RPV hope really does spring eternal.  Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy.  Hope gives Virginia’s Republicans a choice of EW Jackson (unelectable), Corey Stewart (unelectable) and Nick Freitas (a longshot, but maybe electable) in the recently held US Senate primary.  The rightwing radicals who vote in primaries insist on the futile opposition to abortion as a litmus test and voila … “unelectable” wins the Republican nomination.  When Stewart loses, those same lunatic fringe members will declare that Stewart just wasn’t conservative enough.  Fast forward to 2019, repeat the same RPV process and the Dems are in perfect position to dominate the statehouse right in time for the next round of census-driven gerrymandering.  Stick a fork in the RPV.

Judge Dillon’s revenge on Virginia’s conservatives.  Contrary to popular opinion there are some very conservative areas in Maryland.  They are too few to affect the state overall but they’re still very conservative.  Secession has been discussed frequently in Maryland’s Eastern Shore and recently in Western Maryland, the most conservative areas of the state.  Nobody thinks either plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of success but it’s “fun talk” anyway.  However, conservative Marylanders have something conservative Virginians don’t – local autonomy.  Even income taxes vary by county in Maryland.  So, a liberal county like Montgomery has a high county income tax (3.2%) and many government services while conservative Worcester County has a low income tax (1.25%) and fewer government services.  Conservative counties can stay somewhat conservative – even in the so-called Free State.  Once the libs get full control of Virginia everybody in the state will pour ever more money down the rabbit hole in Richmond.  Guns will become a dirty four letter word.  School curricula will be standardized along liberal lines and designated safe spaces will be mandatory for all government buildings (including schools).  When that happens I’ll be laughing at the addle brained Virginia conservatives who so loved our idiotic implementation of Dillon’s Rule here in the Old Dominion.  They’ll have it far worse than the conservatives in Maryland.