How many of us are poor?
Answering that question is not as easy as one may think. Yes, we do have an official poverty statistic that is produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, but nobody likes it. Many on the Left think it is too low, failing to capture the full array of expenses that families face. Folks on the Right think it is too high because it does not account for the effects of many anti-poverty programs and tax credits on family budgets.
Even the Census Bureau is not entirely satisfied with current poverty statistics. As they continue to produce the official measure, they have recently been releasing alternative statistics through the “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) program. These new numbers reflect a more nuanced look into poverty, and are widely believed by researchers and the media to better capture the actual financial circumstances of American families.
But the SPM has its limitations. Primary among them is that the new measure is designed for the national level. State estimates are only available as three-year averages, and local-level estimates are not available at all.
This is unfortunate for a state like Virginia, which has wide regional inequalities in terms of economics, education, and even basic demographics. Because of this, official poverty statistics don’t make sense in Virginia. A one-size-fits-all measure that defines poverty in Northern Virginia the same as it does in coal country does not work and belies our commonsense understanding of the actual resources and costs families face across regions. A better method is needed.
Today, the Cooper Center is releasing its work on a new “Virginia Poverty Measure” (VPM) that will provide SPM-like estimates for Virginia and its local regions.
The sluggish economic recovery and changes to participation guidelines have led to a steady increase in the number of individuals relying on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In January 2013, 47.3 million Americans, or 15% of the total population, received food stamps (Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty, according to recent Census Bureau estimates, but individuals and families slightly above the poverty line are eligible for SNAP as well).
The Wall Street Journal recently released a fantastic interactive graphic that shows trends in monthly food stamp participation, by state, from 1990 through 2013. Most states follow the overall national trend: participation rises in the mid-1990s, gradually declines through the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, flattens slightly through the 2000s, and then sharply increases following 2008.
In 2010, more than one-third of American adults ages 20-74 were obese, and another third were overweight. Even though I was well aware of the growing “obesity epidemic,” watching the steady, seemingly inexorable, increase in obesity rates between 1985-2010 came as a nearly physical shock.
This map, built on data from the Center for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), shows the prevalence rate of adult obesity by state for 1985 to 2010.
By popular demand, I’m attaching dot density maps for more Virginia cities plus a new statewide map…enjoy:
Plus the ones from the previous post:
Our recent post on dot density mapping of U.S., Canadian, and Mexico census data by MIT’s Media Lab got a lot of attention…so we decided to give it a try ourselves, taking a deeper look into census data for Virginia’s major urban centers and smaller cities. All of the dots on the following maps represent one person, as enumerated by the 2010 Census, with a little bit of a twist. Rather than giving everyone a black dot, as MIT’s Media Lab did, we added another layer of data by assigning color dots based on race and ethnicity. The results are quite illuminating…
Even if you don’t follow NCAA men’s basketball, you’re probably aware that the 2013 NCAA Tourney is upon us. The first round games start tonight, so if you’re planning on filling out a bracket this year, I hope you’ve gotten started.
In the spirit of March Madness, the Census Bureau has developed their own bracketology-themed population game. You should take a few minutes and play a round. It’s pretty fun.
You’ll find match-ups of states or metro areas, and you simply pick the one with the larger population. You’ll go through all the pairings until you’ve selected what you think is the state or metro area with the largest population in the country.
The Census Bureau has developed quite a few tools and games like this to showcase their data. You can find the entire gallery on their webpage: http://www.census.gov/dataviz/
Among those of us who love old maps, the good people at the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries project have digitized and uploaded historical information on the shape of American counties. With this data one can animate how America’s political boundaries have changed since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia Colonies. The above video shows historic county boundaries from 1630 to 1910 (shortly after Oklahoma and Indian Territory joined to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907). Please note these boundaries show the creation of government-defined geographic units, not necessarily where population is located.
Another great thing about this data is the level of detail available. For instance, focusing on the monumental changes that Virginia has gone through is quite interesting:
Note the emergence of many of Virginia’s Independent Cities at the turn of the 20th Century.
Things get more interesting when these county files are merged with historical census data. Inspired by our previous post on “Every person gets a dot,” I decided to look at county population dot densities from the first United States Census of 1790 to the recent 2010 Census. Here, every dot represents 5,000 people:
Dustin Cable is a Policy Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where he conducts research on topics that lie at the intersection of demographics, politics, and public policy.
As Dustin and I documented in the second part of our series on poverty and the social safety net in Virginia, need-based government social safety net programs are typically targeted towards specific subgroups of low-income individuals: single mothers and their children, working adults, and individuals with disabilities. While poor single female-headed households and the working poor have received significant attention among researchers, the disabled population has received less attention, in part because regularly available, high quality data that capture aspects of disability status have only recently become available.
This past Tuesday, the Census Bureau released a report, Disability Characteristics of Income-Based Government Assistance Recipients in the United States: 2011, which uses 2011 American Community Survey data to document the disability prevalence and type among U.S. adults 18 and older receiving need-based public assistance. Nationally, 30.4% of adults receiving need-based government assistance report some type of disability. Virginia, like many of the states along the Appalachian mountains, has a slightly higher rate of disability among adults receiving need-based aid: 33.4%.