For most of the last decade, the leading causes of death in the U.S. have remained the same, and the steady increase in mortality over the years has been largely due to an aging population. But the 2020 death statistics will be different. With over 300,000 deaths projected by end of Dec 2020, COVID-19 will become the third most common cause of death in the U.S.

Figure 1 below shows the leading causes of death from 2010 to 2018, representing the population ages 1 and over. In 2018, for instance, a total of 2.8 million deaths were registered in the U.S. and the top-10 leading causes of death accounted for nearly three-quarters of all deaths. Heart disease and cancer (malignant neoplasms) remained on top of the list and surpassed the other causes by a large margin, accounting for more than 655,000 and 599,000 deaths respectively; accidents (unintentional injuries) were the next most common cause, resulting in about 166,000 deaths. Incidentally, influenza and pneumonia (combined into one category) has also consistently been in the list of top-10 causes of death.

However, 2020 will be a different story. With the current death toll at 239,000, COVID-19 has now become one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. The prolonged presence of the disease may be causing pandemic fatigue among Americans, but still more deaths are expected to be recorded in the near future. The COVID-19 fatality projections produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) for the U.S. demonstrate different scenarios, including easing of restrictions or mandatory mask usage. They predict the baseline at about 326,000 cumulative deaths by year end and nearly 400,000 lives may be lost by Feb 1, 2021.

Figure 1: Leading Causes of Death in the US, 2010-2018

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An always contentious topic, crime and policing have been at the forefront of American life for the past few years, and even more so in 2020. While there is no comprehensive record of every incident that may have occurred, in the broader context of criminal justice reform, national- and state-level crime data do tell an interesting story. Crime rates differ over space and time, and depend on several factors, including—but not limited to—population size and composition, degree of urbanization, economic well-being (income, poverty, employment levels), weather conditions, geographical terrain, citizen’s reporting practices, and the influence of law enforcement agencies, to name a few. For now, we focus on population size, density, urban-rural differences, and type of crime, to understand the trends in crime statistics across different jurisdictions in Virginia. We also take a brief look at the incidence of hate crimes reported within the Commonwealth, which further demonstrates the complexities of crime and policing data. Finally, we try to examine the police presence in Virginia by comparing the distribution of law enforcement officers across localities.

 

MAJOR CRIMES ACROSS LOCALITIES

In tandem with the national trend, Virginia has experienced a decline in property and violent crime rates over the last decade. Compared to the other states or counties across the U.S., Virginia and its 133 localities are not outliers, as evident from the maps below using FBI Crime Data1. In 2018, Virginia’s property crime rate was 1665.8 per 100,000, compared to the national rate of 2199.5. The violent crime rate in that same year was 380.6 per 100,000 in the U.S., while in Virginia the rate was 200 per 100,0002.

 

PROPERTY CRIME RATES in 2018 (Explore more here)

Rate of Property Crime

 

VIOLENT CRIME RATES in 2018 (Explore more here)

Rate of Violent Crime

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While COVID-19 has impacted and continues to impact communities worldwide, it is also changing, in perhaps sometimes positive ways, how we manage our daily lives. The pandemic has caused many of us to rely much more heavily on online services that allow us to work, shop and even have doctor’s appointments from home. It has also required many parents who have school-age children to jump head first into the world of home schooling while also managing their own work schedules. Despite the difficulties that come with the shift in the way we work, learn and live, it is likely that we will continue to adopt a more technology-reliant and home-based lifestyle even after the pandemic. And this is particularly true with homeschooling, which will inevitably remain more commonplace after the pandemic than it was before it.Homeschool student chart

Source: Virginia Department of Education, Home Schooled Students & Religious Exemptions Reports

Before the pandemic, the number of children being privately educated at home was increasing much faster in Virginia and the U.S. as a whole than student enrollment in public or private schools. Nationally, the number of children educated at home nearly doubled over the last twenty years. Despite a declining school-age population in most of Virginia, the number of homeschooled students has grown even more quickly throughout the Commonwealth, reaching close to 45,000 in 2019. If homeschoolers in Virginia made up a school division, it would be the fastest growing division, expanding by 48 percent in the last ten years, and seventh largest of Virginia’s 133 school divisions. Read Full Article →

Even in non-pandemic times, K-12 schools tend to be under resourced, especially in low wealth areas, but now during the COVID-19 pandemic when government leaders face difficult decisions about how to allocate diminishing funds, K-12 education will face even greater budget constraints. While teachers’ salaries and funds for capital investment are critical, another equally important but sometimes overlooked priority is funding for school counselors. Counselors serve an important role in lessening inequalities in student opportunities and increasing future economic mobility by helping students successfully navigate the path to postsecondary education and address social/emotional struggles that could become barriers to academic success.

Statewide in Virginia public schools, each school guidance counselor is responsible, on average, for about 348 students. Prior to the pandemic, Virginia approved a budget earlier this year that would have increased funding for counselors setting a 325-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio standard. This was one step towards the 250-to-1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association and supported by the Virginia Board of Education in their Comprehensive Plan. However, in April (as a result of COVID-19) budget amendments were approved that virtually eliminate this additional funding for school counselors. Only five school districts in Virginia currently meet the Virginia Board of Education adopted 250-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio. As students manage their academic careers, especially amid a pandemic, they need more support.

Counselor Intro figure1

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Arguably, the most persistent demographic trend through the centuries in Virginia and the U.S. has been the difference in socioeconomic status between Black Americans and non-Black Americans. By many measures the socioeconomic gap between Black Americans and non-Black Americans has not changed considerably in half a century, adding fuel to assertions that many of our social institutions are structurally racist and disproportionately exclude Black Americans.

While an income gap exists between the incomes of Black Virginians and other Virginians, for some Black Virginians, the income gap is much smaller or almost non-existent. Exploring why this difference in income exists among Black Virginians can help us to understand at least one dimension of why Black Virginians typically earn less than other Virginians.

Since 1970, the income gap between Black and non-Black Virginians has not grown considerably smaller or larger. Though it has moved down in recessions and up during economic expansions, the median family income for Black Virginians has hovered around 70 percent of Virginia’s total median family income for the last 50 years. The fact that the income gap for Black Virginians has not changed considerably since 1970 is particularly notable because the intention of the Civil Rights Era reforms and the Great Society programs that have existed since the late 1960s are in large part to help close the income gap.

Virginia Median Family Income 2

Source: Census Public Use Micro Data, in 2018 dollars. Data for Asian and Hispanic families were not published in every decade.
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With the novel coronavirus causing a worldwide paradigm shift, I was genuinely tempted to jump into the data and analyze all possible permutations of what the potential impacts may be. Should I first plot the number of cases in Virginia with corresponding population densities on a map, or should I find causal connections between the age-distribution and COVID deaths in each of our 133 cities and counties? Will the impact on births be short or long term? How can we capture the symbiotic relationship between immigration rates and the labor market, amidst fears of a second wave? After the initial adrenaline rush of consuming all the data and attempting to produce a coherent narrative, I paused to consider the pitfalls of analysis paralysis. With all the chaotic commentary floating around us, I had to ask if my attempt would be adding value to the conversation, or just more noise. Read Full Article →

The census, which is conducted every ten years, provides a snapshot of the general characteristics of the U.S. population, including place of residence on April 1. This year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, obtaining an accurate census count will be especially challenging for a variety of reasons: Some people may not have been living where they typically would on April 1; nursing homes in a community may have been experiencing higher mortality rates than usual; prison populations may have been reduced; and enumerators (Census workers who go door-to-door to gather data for those who have not yet responded) may not be able to reach hard-to-count populations due to health safety concerns. As a result, certain communities will likely experience an undercount or miscount of their population in the 2020 census and may receive less federal funding for critical resources, services, and programs they need.

The information obtained from the census is vital to our governing processes and provides essential information for businesses, governments, and researchers.  It is the foundation for all data collections.  On the government side, census data informs how congressional districts are redrawn and determines where government funds go. On the private sector side, businesses use the data to decide where they should set up shop. Institutions big and small use census-derived data to decide how to set goals, distribute resources, and evaluate outcomes. An accurate census is critical for all.

Image 1

Source: WBUR

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As a result of COVID-19, higher education institutions across the U.S. had to quickly transition from in-person to online courses for the Spring 2020 semester. In Virginia, the number of students completing coursework entirely online jumped from 120,000 to over half a million in a matter of weeks. Colleges and universities are now preparing scenarios that will shape not only the next few months, but also the next several years. Their decisions and preparations—previous and future—will likely determine their survival in a setting of already decreasing enrollments.

Some institutions have a head start in online instruction. In Virginia, just over half of post-secondary institutions offered at least one online education course and nearly 40 percent of students enrolled in at least one online course, which is higher than the national figure of 35 percent. Online learning in Virginia has been on a steady rise over the past 15 years, but future trends will depend on how institutions adapt to a more virtual environment.

Distance learning trends for Virginia

The number of higher education institutions in Virginia that offer online education opportunities has gradually increased since the data was first reported in 2004. However, the data shows that in recent years that number has stalled at around 90 out of 160 Virginia institutions[1]. Nearly all growth has come from private institutions as public institutions have consistently offered online courses since 2014.

Figure 1: Number of Virginia Higher Education Institutions Offering Online Learning Opportunities, 2004-2018

Online_Figure 1

Source: U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 

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Lower mortgage rates and a rise in concentrated wealth nationwide has resulted in more people buying second homes. With a multitude of natural, historical, and cultural amenities, Virginia is an attractive location to spend leisure time and a prime location to purchase a vacation home. Within the Commonwealth, the percentage of homes in an area that are vacation units, or the vacation share of housing, varies by the region. However, prices in areas with a high percentage of vacation homes are increasing faster than the median price of homes in Virginia and the U.S. overall.  A high or increasing vacation share of housing can indicate the area is an attractive destination, which can boost the local economy, but it also may bring unintended consequences, such as an increase in overall housing costs.

Home Vacation rental

Vacation Home Definition
The majority of home buyers purchase a property to use as a primary residence, but some buyers also purchase a vacation home for family use, for equity gain, for rental income or for use as a primary residence during retirement. Housing units occupied by persons with usual residence elsewhere are classified by the Census Bureau as “vacant for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.” Thus, we define these seasonally vacant homes as vacation homes.
These are vacant units used or intended for use only in certain seasons or for weekends or other occasional use throughout the year. Seasonal units include those used for summer or winter sports or recreation, such as beach cottages and hunting cabins. Interval ownership units, sometimes called shared-ownership or timesharing condominiums, also are included here.

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The 2020 Census is currently underway, and its accuracy relies on two equally important processes: complete data collection, and accurate data reporting. Complete data collection (in the words of the Census Bureau, “counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place”) is essential to an effective decennial census, which is estimated to cost $15.6 billion and which guides the allocation of more than $675 billion to states, communities, programs, and organizations.

Please note “guides the allocation” in the second half of the previous sentence, as the complete data collection is only part one of an accurate Census. Part two, accurate data reporting, drives the allocation of those funds (often awarding a certain amount of funds per person counted in each place), and also informs planning and service provision to citizens across the country. It tells local leaders how many school children to expect for the next year; rescue squads how many ambulances to have on hand; businesses how many working-age people might be available to fill their jobs. 

Alarmingly, even if data collection in this Census is complete and perfect, the data released will be far from accurate due to the implementation of a new approach to data privacy named by the Census Bureau as “Differential Privacy Disclosure Avoidance System” (DP).

WHAT IS DIFFERENTIAL PRIVACY?Tradeoff

Differential Privacy is a new mathematical procedure in which all data below the state level (anything pertaining to counties, cities, or towns) will be infused with “noise” in pursuit of the goal of greater privacy protection. Sounds good, until it becomes clear that privacy protection comes at the great cost of data accuracy and utility.

On October 30, 2019, the Census Bureau posted 2010 data altered with the proposed DP procedures for 2020.  This was designed to help data users better understand the 2020 Census disclosure avoidance system and to evaluate its impact on data quality. Analyzing the differences between the 2010 count and the 2010 noise-infused data (referred to as DP onwards) for the case of Virginia highlights several issues.

[Download Handout here: How Differential Privacy Harms Census Data in Virginia]

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