Explaining Fairfax County by Way of New York City

Graphic credit: StatChat

by James A. Bacon

National population migration surveys invariably show Fairfax County to be a big loser. The county experienced a net domestic out-migration of 16,800 in 2015 and 46,500 since 2010. When viewed in isolation the numbers make Virginia’s largest locality look like a war zone — call it Little Aleppo. Yet somehow the population continues to increase, and somehow the county manages to support one of the highest per capita incomes of any jurisdiction in the United States.

Writing at the StatChat blog, Luke Juday explores the seeming contradiction by taking a look at New York City, which shows a similar profile of massive domestic out-migration and increasing population. By way of explanation, he points to two trends: foreign in-migration and natural increase. In New York, a wave of immigrants more than replaced the native-born Americans who were leaving. Furthermore, the demographic profile skews younger than for the nation — and people in their 20s and 30s have more children than people in their 50s and 60s.

New York is not turning into another Detroit as its native-born population moves away. Sky-high real estate prices may drive out the middle class, but unaffordable real estate is a sure sign of high demand. As Juday points out: “Its population continues to climb despite an astronomical cost of living that suggests even more people would live there if they could.”

That New York is a gateway for immigration is a secret to no one. But the idea that it is a young city is less widely recognized. Writes Juday:

New York is a young city compared to the nation as a whole. Like most cities, it has a disproportionate share of young adults in their 20’s and early 30’s. Young adults are important in demographics for two reasons. First is what they don’t do: die. A population of 20-somethings will have far fewer deaths in any given year than a population of 60-somethings. Second is what they do: have babies. Women between the ages of 20 and 35 are in their prime childbearing years. Unsurprisingly, places that have a lot of women in their prime childbearing years tend to have a lot of births as well.

The people moving to New York are younger than those who are leaving. Think college graduates seeking the bright-lights-big-city in Wall Street, Madison Avenue or Broadway while snow birds retire to Boca Raton. (The numbers also suggest that native-born households in the child-raising years, along with their children, also leave the city — presumably to a less hectic life outside the urban core.) The end result is a city with a high proportion of young, creative, entrepreneurially vital people in their 20s and 30s.

Unfortunately, Juday does not close the loop in his blog post. Is what’s happening in New York also happening in Fairfax County? Well, after accounting for foreign immigration, Fairfax County has actually experienced a net in-migration of 9,200 since 2010, so at least one of New York City’s demographic drivers is the same. Juday does not tell us whether Fairfax has a similar population profile heavily weighted by people in their 20s and 30s. But he promises to reveal more in a later post.

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11 responses to “Explaining Fairfax County by Way of New York City”

  1. Without commenting directly, Readers may also be interested in a recent WaPo article:


    I don’t know if the article is true or perception, but many residents seemed to concur with the feeling that Fairfax is losing ground. Some would disagree, but it would appear the article struck a chord.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I want to congratulate Antonio Oliva for his fine Washington Post article on Fairfax County’s decline over the past two decades. Save for the fine coverage by one reporter on the UVa. Rolling Stone rape article, this is the best local news story I have read in the Washington Post for many years.

      Sadly, but for a few exceptions like Karen Tumulty, Paul Farhi, and David Broder, it is taking a new younger generation of reporters to fix the chronic problems that most recently have plagued the Post’s news reporting since the late 1990s.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    It’s my understanding that Fairfax County has had net domestic out-migration for multiple years. But for people moving here from other nations, we’d certainly have flat population growth or, perhaps, even a decline. At the same time, the County is graying, and there is no meaningful job growth at the upper compensation levels. Job growth is at lower-wage, service jobs. While much of the hit from Sequestration and cut-backs in government contracting has worked its way through the system, commercial growth is pretty slow. The County has the highest office vacancy rates since 1991. Two bright spots – Reston Towne Center and the four Tysons rail stations. A number of businesses are relocating to new and extremely expensive space near those four stations. But even that has not done anything for the average resident of Fairfax County. The BoS just voted to raise the real estate tax rate to $1.13 on top of an average assessment increase of c. 1.6%.

    Fairfax County has lost a lot of ground. If I were a resident of RoVA, I’d start to worry that I might have to pay my own way some day.

    1. Correct TMT the first thing that comes to my mind if we had even taxation over the state, instead of the “hit NoVA harder” taxation policy, Fairfax might not be “hurting” as much. But that could be sour grapes, not sure. In addition to sequestration, perhaps recent loss of ExxonMobil also adds to a feeling of losing good jobs here, but that was somewhat unusual…oil patch mostly headed for TX decades ago.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    between this blog post and the other one about driving being “down” – one should also look at this from the Fredericksburg Area perspective where we are continuing to see growth of NoVa commuters who want homes in our area and who commute daily to jobs in NoVa.

    Invariably in public meetings about things like HOT lanes and I-95 congestion – there is discussion about why people move here from NoVa and it’s always the same answer – they cannot afford a house in NoVa so they commute to the Fredericksburg Area – and it’s ever growing -not shrinking.

    New subdivisions continue to go up and commuter lots and I-95 get more and more congested… and lots of complaining about it.

    From down our way – it does not appear at all that Fairfax is “shrinking”!!!

    1. You keep getting confused by this. It’s not that your neighbors “can’t afford a house” in Fairfax County. It’s that your neighbors have looked at the trade-off between a long commute and a better house in Fredricksburg and decided on the better house. This is the same decision that has been made since Tysons Corner was a dairy farm. It’s just that the perimeter of that decision has finally gotten to you.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    well Don – I’m telling you what they tell me. They say that they can’t afford a house in NoVa and that’s why they commute.

    Now – I think like you . I think it’s a BETTER house and that a million other people – give or take – have decided they would choose a less better house in NoVa for a “better” commute.

    As far as I am concerned – you can have ALL of them as they are for the most part rather demanding folks who expect Fairfax-grade schools, infrastructure and other amenities for Fredericksburg area taxes… and they are as anti-growth and anyone you can imagine .. not only “get off my lawn” but ” no, I donj’t want you building a house in the woods behind me”. Oh.. and the coup-de-grace – for some really ODD reason – given the fact that most of them are Govmint workers and Govmint contractors – they seem to gravitate towards the Tea party for that “smaller govt” ideal…

    so – yes – you can take them all back – and let them live around you!

  5. The share of Americans living in urban neighborhoods dropped by 7%, from 21.7% in 2000 to 20.1% in 2014. Even looking at only the densest urban neighborhoods where about one-third of the urban population lives, the share of Americans living in these neighborhoods fell by 5%, from 7.4% in 2000 to 7.0% in 2014. … Headlines about educated young adults flocking to Brooklyn and San Francisco aren’t wrong — but they are far from the whole story and are unrepresentative of broader trends. Other demographic groups are suburbanizing faster than the young and rich are piling in to cities.


    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Excellent comment.

      Each of us being human far too often state a truth that we wish to be true, despite the fact that a dispassionate perspective would prove it false or at best highly misleading. This also is far too often encouraged, even to landslide proportions, because our instant communications technologies now allow “True Believers” or those politically motivated to game the system so as to spin the truth into different and misleading shapes that obscure truth to promote one’s own advantage.

      This behavior has been going on for a long as humans have walked the earth. But today’s tools make these trends ever more pernicious.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I agree with RF-3 – great comment.

      I don’t know why the new urbanist movement cannot view city living as an option, rather than some type of duty. More choices in housing is good for society. And many will chose to live in a city. Someone from my Dad’s side of the family has lived in St. Paul, MN continuously since at least 1860. And city living is not limited to just apartments and condos. Many offer row houses and even single family homes.

      But I sure don’t want to be told I must live in a dense area, much less multi-family buildings – at least not until my hearing is gone, so I don’t have to hear my neighbors.

      Local and regional governments in the Greater Washington Area are planning to push virtually all new housing to “activity centers,” which seems like a majority of all new housing would be multi-family. What about the plurality or majority of us who don’t want to live a mere wall or ceiling away from our neighbors? How does limiting housing choices make this area more competitive for new and expanded businesses?

      Also, how is governmental action limiting housing choices consistent with eliminating governmental restrictions on many other areas of one’s life? E.g, reproductive choice, sexuality, drugs and the like.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I wholly agree with your point about how the Smart Growth Movement, like so many other special interests in this country, are moving at warp speed to impose a one size fits all centrally dictated regime on the entire nation.

        This expansion of federal power and intrusion is clear from the barrage of email I regularly receive from the Smart Growth movement. How the Smart Growth Movement is increasing becoming just one more crony capitalist special interest that is pandering to the Federal Government to get it to fund and impose their smart growth wishlist and thus extend the Federal Governments control of every aspect of building and living in local towns, cities, and rural areas.

        At current the rate, the Federal Government will be able to dictate to and control the smart growth movement itself along with everyone else living, working, or otherwise involved in building buildings in the United States. The pattern of gross Federal Government intrusion into local and private affairs is following what happened at warp speed to our institutions of higher education, including the Federal governments now regulating sexual and social activities of students and a range of other activities on our campuses that are, in practical affect, being taken over lock stock and barrel by the Federal Government.

        Yet very few in our nation are resisting this, or even notice.

        Thus there has been to my knowledge no public comment on, much less alarm over, the fact that the Federal government (dept of education) is now taking full and direct control of the accreditation process of colleges and universities that historically from the founding of our nation was in the hands of and individually or collectively controlled by the colleges and universities themselves.

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