During most of the 20th century, the neighborhoods where people lived and worked in Richmond — even the boundaries of the city — were shaped by race. For decades after WWII, the city’s leaders fought a well-publicized battle to maintain this system and prevent the city’s population from becoming majority black. In recent years, Richmond has experienced its most significant demographic transformation since the post-war era, but this time the change has occurred much more quietly. Why?

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1923 Public Works map of Richmond showing black neighborhoods

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When do Americans leave for workFor many of us, the morning commute is often not the best part of the day; however some may actually enjoy this time, managing to find peace and productivity during the trip into their workplace. Countless articles discuss the impact of commuting on the average person’s quality of life, with the costs – time lost in transit, stress from the daily commute, financial expenses – usually outweighing the benefits. People sometimes do not realize how much their commute is costing them, how their overall health and wellness is affected, or how it may be correlated with unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

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Fivethirtyeight’s Ben Casselman published an article recently entitled “Think Millennials Prefer the City? Think Again.” He cites the most recently published migration data from the Census Bureau’s CPS (Current Population Survey) to show that more millennials moved from “principal cities” (a designation of the Office of Management and Budget) to “suburbs” in 2013-2014:

529,000 Americans ages 25 to 29 moved from cities out to the suburbs in 2014; only 426,000 moved in the other direction. Among younger millennials, those in their early 20s, the trend was even starker: 721,000 moved out of the city, compared with 554,000 who moved in.”

This is wrong, but it’s not Casselman’s fault. He’s reading the table correctly. The problem is with the way the CPS migration data is tabulated and presented. Other researchers have used the same data set to make similar points about migration, relying on the same bad data. The truth is harder to nail down, but based on population distributions from the same survey, it looks like over the past 5 years about 3 million more Americans age 20-29 moved from suburbs to principal cities than from cities to suburbs, with last year being the largest net gain for cities yet.

That’s an error several orders of magnitude in the wrong direction and should be a little startling. Proving it is fairly easy, though. Explaining it is more difficult.

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When it comes to the social safety net, myths and half-truths, rather than reality, often shape our conception of who depends on the net and the value of these programs. It is easy to lose sight of what these programs do for families, especially if one lives in a household that has never qualified for a program. Mitt Romney, a smart and well-informed person, infamously stated that 47 percent of Americans “believe the government has the responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” But the reality isn’t so simple. Advocates of the social safety net countered Romney’s argument by highlighting that many of those people were seniors who had paid into the system, or individuals who are currently working, but needed help to make ends meet.

When our understanding of the social safety net relies on myths and incomplete truths, it distorts our public conversation about the place of these programs in our society, and our obligation—or lack of obligation—to those households using the programs.

In an attempt to provide a better picture of the social safety net I graphed median annual benefits for 12 social safety programs against a household’s resources or wages. Read Full Article →

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The Washington Post recently published a graphic showing where the 100 U.S. senators went to college. It might be nothing more than an interesting bit of biographical information about our elected officials, but it could also be meaningful. For educated and increasingly mobile Americans, college is often a formative experience and a college’s culture can shape its graduates. It also gives a clue about the regional and class origins of a person. This made me wonder what the makeup of the Virginia General Assembly is, so I collected the data and put it into a series of pie charts that can be seen below. Use the filters to break them down by party and by house. Read Full Article →

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A while back, I wrote a post on the transformation of US cities over the last two decades, using Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta, and Denver as examples. That investigation, using graphs to show changes in the city from the core to the periphery, turned into a larger report that was just released today.

In order to get a better idea of what’s going on across the country, I looked at 9 variables in 66 cities, including the 50 largest metropolitan areas. You can read the report here or check out an interactive page with graphs from every city in the study. You can also compare cities across the country.

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There has been quite a bit of hype around the idea that millennials are gravitating towards city centers. Canadian professor Markus Moos calls it “youthification” and has recently put together some maps and data to prove it. But finding more hard numbers can be difficult. Is this hype only the result of a few hot spots like Brooklyn and Portlandia or is it a nationwide phenomenon? And how different is the distribution of age groups today from what it was not long ago?

Turns out that we also have a report coming out soon on demographic shifts in America’s metropolitan areas and a key part of that equation is young adults. Downtowns, it turns out, suddenly have a disproportionate share of them. They haven’t always been there. In 1990, young adults weren’t much more concentrated in the center than out in the suburbs.

This trend holds true in nearly every city across the country. I looked at the generation generally classified as “millennials” – all those born after 1980, from the age of 22 (so as to filter out most undergrads at any colleges that might be located in these metropolitan areas) all the way up to 34. I then graphed them as a proportion of the population based on their distance from the center of the city. In these graphs, the left side represents the city center and neighborhoods are graphed based on their distance from that center. The consistency of the shift is startling. Use the drop down menu to see data from different cities:

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One trend that was very noticeable in the recent population estimates for Virginia in 2014 was how much growth has slowed since 2010. While fewer people moving into the state was one cause for the slowdown, the other cause was Virginia’s declining birth rate. It is hard for any population to grow when it does not have enough births to replace deaths, as is the case in much of Virginia.

To illustrate how low birth rates are in much of Virginia, I thought it would useful to overlay a map of county and city birth rates in Virginia with the names of countries which have similar birth rates.
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Today the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center released the 2014 population estimates for Virginia’s counties and cities. The most notable trend is that Virginia’s population is growing much more slowly than in any recent decade, at an annual rate of less than 1 percent since 2010. The slowdown can be attributed to both fewer people moving into the state and a shrinking surplus of births over deaths. On the regional and local level, however, the recent slowdown has not been evenly distributed, with many parts of the state experiencing a much sharper shift into slower population growth.

Average Annual Growth by Decade Read Full Article →

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On Friday, January 9, President Obama announced America’s College Promise, his new vision for US community colleges, at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, having released this teaser just the day before.

In its press release on the plan, the White House explained its proposal to make community college “free for everybody who’s willing to work for it.” Under this plan, community college tuition would be covered for students enrolled at least half time, with a 2.5 GPA or better. President Obama proposes that three-quarters of the cost of tuition would come from the Federal Government, while states who participate would be expected to cover the remaining quarter.

Tonight in the State of the Union address, we can expect to hear more from him on this plan–and are certain to hear a pitch for its funding. Here are some things to keep in mind when the topic comes up.

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