Perhaps no event in Virginia’s history had more of an impact on its population than the four years of war between 1861 and 1865. The war resulted in an unknown number of deaths, freedom from slavery for close to a third of its population, and the secession of West Virginia. Though historians have attempted to calculate the number of military deaths during the war for over a century, only in recent years, with the digitization of historic census data, have historians and demographers been able to analyze the larger impact that the Civil War had on the population beyond military death records.

The methodology used to measure the demographic impact of the Civil War by utilizing digitized historic census data is reasonably similar to the methodology used by the Weldon Cooper Center to project Virginia’s future population in 2020 or 2030 in that both methods analyze how age cohorts change between decennial censuses. Applying this demographic technique to 1850, 1860 and 1870, we are able to use census data to produce an estimate of the impact that the Civil War had on the populations in each of the counties in Virginia.

The results and analysis can be seen below. Click here for a full screen view.

Despite the importance of the decennial census, its scope, purpose, and constitutional foundation are not widely understood.  Recently, the Census Bureau conducted the 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS), which found that two-thirds of the U.S. population have only a cursory knowledge of the census. This unfamiliarity with how the census works is most prevalent in less educated individuals, but is about the same across racial groups. Hispanic, white, and black individuals are more or less just as likely to be unfamiliar with the particulars of the census. Misconceptions about the census may be benign in some cases but in others, it may be problematic as misinformation and concerns about data confidentiality could discourage people from responding.

Source: 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Survey

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In today’s data-rich, technology-driven world, the decennial counting of every person in the United States may seem archaic. However, the census is unique as it counts everybody living in the U.S. and 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.


The U.S. is not alone in conducting a census. Most countries around the world perform some type of enumeration at least once every 10 years, and some once every five years. Others like Germany and Scandinavian countries use a constantly updated register-based census model, in which existing data is collected from administrative registries, such as municipalities and federal employment agencies to track population change.

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Manufacturing has played a significant role in U.S history. In 1790, during the first State of the Union address, President George Washington highlighted the importance of manufacturing for military supplies: “their (A free people) safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.” By 1970, the United States had achieved economic power through manufacturing, which provided a quarter of the total employment at the time. Most recently, however, the manufacturing sector is at the center of most economic discussions regarding its decline in the number of jobs.

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The Cooper Center recently released population projections through the year 2040 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to detailing information about projected changes to the size of the national and state populations over the next couple of decades, the data release also breaks down projected populations by age group and sex and provides information about median population age. The interactive tool below was designed to help users visualize this information.


Read on for a few examples of how you can use the tool to visualize some of the key demographic trends reflected in the projections.

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The U.S. Constitution requires that every 10 years we take a count— or a census—of America’s population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas. The decennial census is the largest peacetime mobilization of the U.S. government, relying on each household to self- report the number of residents and their demographic characteristics.  In addition, the census hires hundreds of thousands of temporary staff to help enumerate those who do not respond to the census form, making sure EVERYBODY is counted.

As we approach the 2020 census, the nation has changed considerably with a much healthier economy than nine years ago. It is vitally important that this count be successful and accurate, not only to help track these changes from the last decade but also to preserve our rights of equal representation. The census results determine substantial outcomes; democracy and lots of money are at stake.

Re-apportionment of House seats in Congress

The founding fathers decided that the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives would be apportioned by the number of people in each state. The population totals from the census determine the number of seats each state has.

The interactive map below displays the loss or gain in seats from the previous census, along with the projected change following the upcoming 2020 count. Following the 2010 census, eighteen states saw either a gain or a loss in their representation. Eight states gained at least one representative with Florida and Texas gaining the most with two and four additional seats respectively. Ten states, primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, lost one or more representatives, with New York and Ohio each losing two seats.

Figure 1: Change in Congressional Apportionment from the Previous Census*

* 2020 Projections are based on 2010-18 Change shown in 2018 Population Estimates, Generated by Census Bureau 12/19/2018 and calculated by Election Data Services.

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Crystal Ball

Our recently released National Projections for all 50 states and the District of Columbia updated the total population, as well as population by age and sex, for 2020, 2030, and 2040, to reflect the effect of the latest demographic trends on future population. Over the projected time period, the country is expected to grow at a slower rate, with the national total in 2040 reaching 379 million.

The top-10 largest states are projected to remain the same across the decades since 2010, but their relative ranks may vary with southern states like Georgia and North Carolina slowly climbing up the ladder over time (as shown in the table below). California, Texas, Florida and New York continue to dominate the population size charts, with more than a third of the future U.S. population residing in one of these four large states.


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This morning the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia released its 2018 population estimates for Virginia’s counties and cities. The estimates show that Virginia’s total population has continued to grow, passing 8.5 million in 2018. Though Virginia added over 50,000 new residents in the past year, growth is noticeably slower than ten years ago when Virginia’s population was increasing by closer to 100,000 annually. Over the past five years, Virginia’s population grew by 3.2 percent, which is slightly less than overall growth of the U.S. population at 3.5 percent. 

One of the key reasons for Virginia’s slower population growth is that there are more Virginians moving out of the Commonwealth than there are residents from other states moving in. Instead of gaining 10 to 20 thousand residents each year from other states, Virginia has been losing 10 to 20 thousand residents to other states.1991 to 2017 Net Migration for Virginia

Source:IRS return based migration data. *Census migration data was used in 2014-2015 because changes in the way the IRS published data affected comparability with other years. 2016-2017 census migration data was used because the IRS has not yet published the data. 

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I recently wrote a post about how Asians in Virginia are often stereotyped as a successful minority due to their high median household income and their significant share of employment in STEM-related occupations. Despite being collectively identified as “Asians,” the Asian population is heterogeneous, comprised of more than thirty different nationalities and ethnic groups. The following graph illustrates the diversity among the over 545,000 members of Virginia’s Asian population. Asian Indians (28%), Koreans (14%), Chinese (14%), Filipinos (13%), and Vietnamese (10%) make up the most significant portions of this population.


Population of Asians by Country of Origin (in thousands), Virginia, 2017

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates
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For decades, Virginia’s public school enrollment has grown steadily along with Virginia’s population, but the results from this year’s September student count show that in 2018, Virginia’s enrollment fell by a little over 2,000 students—the first decline in enrollment since 1984. While this year’s dip in student enrollment is relatively small compared to Virginia’s total public school enrollment (over one million students), the decline in enrollment is one of the first signs that Virginia’s aging population is beginning to impact the commonwealth.

1900 to 2018 Virginia K-12 Enrollment

Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count

Even though it has been decades since Virginia’s student enrollment last declined, this year’s lower enrollment was not entirely unexpected. The number of births in Virginia, and nationally, has continued to fall since the recession, and as children born after 2007 began enrolling in school, Virginia’s entering kindergarten class sizes also started to shrink. Still, the smaller student cohorts were not expected to cause Virginia’s total student enrollment to decrease until sometime during the 2020s. It appears that this early decline in enrollment is primarily due to the rise in the out-migration of families during the last few years in Northern Virginia.

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