Category Archives: Demographics

Why Are So Many Rural Virginians Stuck in Place?

Declining geographic mobility. Graph credit: McKinsey Global Institute

by James A. Bacon

A recurring question on this blog and elsewhere is why don’t more Americans (and rural Virginians) move to areas of greater economic opportunity? Why do they remain stuck in communities with high unemployment and low wages? Americans have always moved to economic opportunity in the past. What’s different now?

Those questions give rise to another set of questions. If people refuse to budge, should the rest of society take pity on them and subsidize their choice to stay put? As Don Rippert commented in a previous post, “The best thing the state can do is issue relocation vouchers to rural residents.”

The authors of a McKinsey Global Institute report, “The Future of Work in America,” tackles the geographic-mobility question. The biggest factor, they suggest, is the vast and growing gap in the cost of living between prospering cities and lagging communities. “Variations in the cost of living — and particularly in housing costs — are a clear contributing factor holding back geographic mobility in the United States. The cities offering the greatest job opportunity also happen to be expensive places to live.” Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Be “White” or “Black” These Days?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and family. Using Census definitions, three of the four Cruz family members picture here are “people of color.”

by James A. Bacon

As President Bill Clinton famously predicted in 1998 based on Census Bureau forecasts, white Americans would lose their majority status in the United States by the 2040s. The prospect of “people of color” comprising an “emerging Democratic majority” has undergirded the Democratic Party strategy of making racial/ethnic identity politics the core of their appeal. In parallel, fear of becoming a minority has inflamed the passions of many white voters. Ironically, due to an increase in the number of Hispanics and the offspring of inter-racial marriages, the percentage of Americans identifying as white is barely declining.

It is increasingly evident that the U.S. government’s system of racial classification is archaic. Indeed, recent numbers call into question what it even means to be “white” or “black,” both of which are classifications reflecting the obsessions of a by-gone era.

“The same Census projections that predict Americans who identify as white alone will become a minority during the 2040s also predict that about 75 percent of the U.S. population is expected to mark the box next to White on their Census form, either alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity,” writes Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer, on the StatChat blog. “The race categories we use are struggling to keep up with our changing population.” Continue reading

Wonk Alert: Cool New Interactive Map

University of Virginia acceptance rate, 2017-18. Source: Virginia Public Access Project based on SCHEV data.

If you were a high school graduate from Dickenson County applying for admittance to the University of Virginia, the odds of getting accepted in 2017 and 2018 were 100%. If you were a high school graduate from Fairfax County, the odds were only a little better than one in three (37.7%). Sounds pretty unfair, huh?

But, then, you’ve got to consider that only three high school grads from Dickenson County even applied to UVa. Some 6,300 grads from Fairfax County applied.

Those data points and many, many more can be found in an informational graphic published on the Virginia Public Access Project. The interactive map is based on State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) data. Continue reading

Richmond and DC Among Cities People Are Most Eager to Ditch

by Don Rippert

Anywhere but here. Moneywise Publishing is citing a “study” detailing the most and least desirable American cities based on real estate inquiries. Real estate brokerage firm Redfin tracks Americans using their web site to find new places to live.  According to the company, 25% of people browsing home listings online are “looking to get outta town.” Tracking the places people want to leave isn’t very encouraging for Virginia. Both the Richmond metropolitan area and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are on the list of 19 top places to leave. Redfin also tracks the 10 places people most want to go. No Virginia city makes that list. Continue reading

Does the Left Have an Understandable Position on Immigration and How Much Does It Matter?

by Don Rippert

Debate: The debate on immigration in America continues to rage. People who hold right-of-center political beliefs seem to think that the U.S. immigration laws should be vigorously enforced. There may be some “wiggle room” on the right. For example, some conservatives believe there should be exceptions to deportation for those illegally in the United States so long as they have been here a fairly long time, paid taxes, stayed out of legal trouble, etc. Without commenting on the reasonableness of the conservative position, it is understandable.

The position held by Americans with left-of-center political beliefs is hard to fathom. While few liberals will openly say they are in favor of “open borders” the sum total of their beliefs seems to indicate that “open borders” is exactly what they seek.

This issue is important for Virginia because some areas of Virginia have very low numbers of foreign born residents, while other areas have very high numbers of foreign-born residents. For example, the 2010 Census found that 12.9% of people living in America were foreign born. Virginia had 11.4% of its residents recorded as being foreign born. However, Arlington County (Virginia’s 6th most populous county) had a foreign born percentage of 28% in 2000. Social services are affected by immigration. The cost of teaching English as a second language in public schools is directly impacted by the percentage of residents born in foreign (non English speaking) countries.

Author’s apology in advance – this is a long post. By far the longest I have ever published. However, this is a complex topic with both liberals and conservatives more than willing to misrepresent the data. I saw no way to properly handle the topic with brevity.

Continue reading

The New African Migration

Image source: Pew Research Center

by James A. Bacon

While the United States indulges in an orgy of introspection over the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving on the shores of Virginia, it might be worthwhile reminding ourselves that that was then, and this is now. It may have escaped the notice of the New York Times, but the country has changed.

Africans are coming voluntarily to the United States by the tens of thousands every year. And, in an irony of ironies according to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, African immigrants are most likely to live in the South — 39% reside in the former center of slavery compared to 25% in the Northeast, and much smaller percentages in the Midwest and West. Virginia, by the way is one of seven states with African-born populations of more than 100,000.

Historians estimate that 400,000 enslaved Africans came to North America during the 200-year period in which the trans-Atlantic slave trade was practiced in the English colonies and the newly independent United States. Pew estimates that 2 million Africans (the vast majority of whom are from sub-Saharan countries) have emigrated to the U.S. since 1990. Americans need to be honest about the nation’s past of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and discrimination. But we also need to be honest about the nation that we have become. America is a land of opportunity for all people of all races and ethnicities.

The Most Cost-Effective Anti-Poverty Program Known to Man: Contraception

Back to exploring “root causes” of poverty… This chart shows vividly how poverty is a demography-driven phenomenon. Poor people have more children than the not-poor do, and they have children at a younger age. The consequence of this “disparity” in fertility rates is that the percentage of children raised in poverty is vastly higher than the percentage of poor people in the population as a whole. Even as thousands of Virginians succeed in lifting themselves out of poverty, the reservoir of poor people is continually replenished. Continue reading

Virginia Population by 2020: 8.7 Million

The Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia has published new projections for Virginia’s population in 2020. The population will continue to increase, though at a slower rate in the past, reaching an estimated 8.66 million next year. Most striking is a graphic (seen above) showing the relative distribution of the population between Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, metro Richmond, Virginia’s smaller metros, and the non-metropolitan areas.

Teen Births and Violent Crime — a Weak Connection

I’ll be the first to admit, giving me an Excel spreadsheet is the intellectual equivalent of handing a chimp a machine gun. What I don’t know about statistics would, well… it would fill a statistics textbook. But I abuse statistics less than most journalists, commentators, and politicians, who, to paraphrase renowned economist Ronald H. Coase, routinely torture the data until it confesses. I count on readers to call B.S. when they see it and modify my findings accordingly. In the spirit of exploration and with all due humility, I present the following:

In a previous post, I disputed the conventional wisdom that “poverty” is a “root cause” of violent crime. The lack of income and material resources is undoubtedly a contributing factor, playing into feedback loops of tremendous complexity, but overall the correlation between the poverty rate and the crime rate across Virginia’s 100+ localities is weak — an R² of .1802, which is considered a small effect size. There is a much stronger correlation — an R² of .4007 across Virginia localities, a moderate effect size — between the percentage of single-parent households and violent crime.

If the percentage of single-family households in a population has a moderate influence on crime, I wondered about the percentage of teen births. Continue reading

And Now… Some Mind-Blowing Data about Rural Virginia

Source: StatChat blog

Rural Virginia may have seen a decline in the number of jobs since 2011, but get this: Incomes have been rising faster than in Virginia’s metropolitan areas — 12% since 2010 compared to just 5% for the metros, says Hamilton Lombard on the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group blog, StatChat. Likewise, poverty rates have fallen more in Virginia’s rural areas. Continue reading

Dominant Pattern of Urban Change: Low-Income Concentration

Geek alert! The Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity, affiliated with the University of Minnesota Law School, has devised an interesting way to look at urban change at the neighborhood level in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. A new study, “American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century,” examines census tracts to see if they fall into one of four categories:

Growth — economically expanding, with a growing low-income population.
Low-income displacement — economically expanding with a shrinking low-income population (gentrification)
Low-income concentration — economically declining with a growing low-income population
Abandonment — economically declining with a shrinking low-income population Continue reading

It’s the Money, Stupid

A fascinating article in Sunday’s New York Times deals with one of the subjects that is a frequent topic on this blog—housing patterns. Using demographic data from the Census Bureau and home lending data published as part of the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, the reporters “identified every census tract in the country that has grown notably more racially diverse since 2000.”

They found a consistent nationwide trend of increased diversity. Affluent whites are moving into central city areas that have been populated by blacks for many generations and middle-class non-whites are moving into suburbs long the domain of white families. The authors posit that the movement of whites into the central cities is a result of several factors. The major factor they cite is historical disinvestment by society in those areas, which has made them ripe for reinvestment. Another factor is old housing stock that was approaching the end of its life.

This increased diversity is altering the nature of the communities affected. The primary finding highlighted in the story is that the non-whites moving into the suburbs blend into, or integrate, their new communities relatively seamlessly. However, that is not true for whites moving into the central cities. The reason is not racial tension, but economics. While the non-whites moving into the suburbs have incomes similar to the families already living there, the average incomes of the whites moving into the central city neighborhoods are significantly higher than those who have lived there for many years. It turns out people feel more comfortable associating with those on their same income level. (This is not really a surprise.) Continue reading

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