Mollie Orshansky in 1967 (Social Security Administration Historical Archives)

Mollie Orshansky in 1967
(Social Security Administration Historical Archives)

Today, Ms. Mollie Orshanky, best know for her work on poverty, would have been 100 years old. Her research became the foundation for the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Though this measure has been criticized, it is important to remember Mollie Orshansky’s work was groundbreaking for its time.

On her birthday, it is worth pausing to remember who she was and some of the ways she shaped our understanding of poverty.

Who was Mollie Orshansky (1915-2006)?

The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, she grew up in New York City with her five sisters.*  Although her family had a strong work ethic, her father, at times, struggled to provide for his large family. During these times, Mollie would accompany her mother as she stood in bread lines for assistance in feeding the family.

These early experiences shaped how she thought about poverty and what that economic condition meant to the people in it. When talking about her work on the poverty measure she would often remark, “If I write about the poor, I don’t need a good imagination–I have a good memory.”

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Later this week 92 percent of American adults will celebrate Christmas. Around here, we’re pretty fond of numbers, so here are a few statistics we gathered from around the web about the holiday.

Celebrating Christmas (according to the Pew Research Center)Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Used under Creative Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/europedistrict/11351076073/in/photostream/

  • Half of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, while almost one-third say that it is a cultural holiday.
  • Four out of five non-Christians say they will celebrate Christmas, including nearly three-quarters of Buddhists and Hindus.
  • Almost three quarters of American adults say that Santa Claus visited their home when they were kids, but only one-third say they will be in a house this year that will have a visit from Santa. Younger children tend to be scared of Santa, but by about age 3 they start to enjoy the tradition. On average, kids stop believing in Santa at around age 8 or 9, according to Dr. Carol Slotterback at the University of Scranton. Many children will say they believe, even if they no longer do, for the sake of their parents or younger siblings, or so that they continue to receive presents.

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The map below was one of the more interesting maps produced after the census in 2010. It shows how the United States’ demographic center of gravity has shifted westward each census since the first in 1790. The center of population is essentially the point on which a flat, firm map of the United States would be perfectly balanced — somewhat like a seesaw — if all its residents had the same weight.

U.S Center of Population

What is this map good for?
There are a myriad of ways to map a population, but as useful as maps can be they typically contain a large number of data points which can make interpreting them difficult. The main strength of a center of population map is its simplicity, just the location of America’s center of population can reveal a good deal about the country. With some historical knowledge a map of the country’s previous centers of population can reveal a number of macro trends in U.S history. For example, in 1890 the Census Bureau announced that the western frontier had finally been settled, as the map above shows, the U.S center of population would move west much more slowly afterwards.

After looking at the United States map, I created the interactive map below of each state’s center of population over time to see if it would also show trends for the states and the country. Read Full Article →

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A couple of weeks agoSafetyNet_FoodStamps_First3 I got an email from a local food bank asking if we knew the number of people receiving SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) in a certain locality. He was trying to estimate the “number of hungry people” in his community and figured SNAP recipients were a “reasonable surrogate” for that. His assumption makes complete sense–households receiving SNAP benefits have demonstrated a lack of financial resources, forcing them to choose between food and other necessities, like utilities.

But more importantly, he was trying to demonstrate to the members of his community that even in their relatively middle-class neighborhood people struggled with food insecurity. Given this as his goal, focusing on those receiving SNAP only provided a portion of the picture. Many of the people to walk into the food bank are not eligible for SNAP, but they are no less in need.

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Living wage in VirginiaThe definition of “living wage” is difficult to nail down. In 2012, members of the University of Virginia community issued a living wage demand of $13.00 per hour for University employees, to be adjusted yearly. Amy Glasmeier, the researcher behind the MIT Living Wage Calculator, defines living wage as “just enough to pay bills for the necessities of life and not fall behind”. The Economic Policy Institute built its Family Budget Calculator to determine “the income a family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard,” while the Center for Women’s Welfare Self-Sufficiency Standard calculates “the amount of income necessary to meet basic needs (including taxes) without public assistance…and without private/informal assistance”.

What is a “living wage”?

Though they may appear under different names, each of the above represents an attempt to define an hourly wage or yearly income that will allow households to meet basic needs. The effort to establish a “living wage” is made difficult because security and comfort are both subjectively, and relatively, defined.

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This week, the Demographics Research Group published a new Census Brief covering recent trends in Virginia’s public school enrollment. Despite the weak economy, most of Virginia’s localities have continued to grow in population during the past five years. Throughout the recession and the subsequent recovery, Virginia has consistently had more people moving in than out. Yet in many of Virginia’s localities the number of children enrolled in their schools is beginning to decline while their population continues to grow. The divergence in population and school enrollment trends is likely to be a challenge for many local governments going forward.

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Virginia is home to nearly 720,000 veterans. In observance of National Veterans Day (11 November), we developed a brief demographic profile of veterans in the Commonwealth.

Who are they?

About a third of veterans are between the ages of 35 – 55. While nationally only 8 percent of veterans are women, in Virginia the share is higher at 12 percent.

Age&Gender of Veterans

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1In recent decades, the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the United States has easily been the most discussed population trend. Fueled by immigration and births, the U.S. Hispanic population grew from 4 percent of the population in 1970 to 16 percent—or over 50 million—by 2010. The increase in the U.S. Hispanic population has attracted considerable interest from different sources, including advertisers looking for new markets to political parties who believe the Hispanic vote is now essential to win elections.

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Despite a rise in high school graduation rates, college enrollment is dropping from its 2011 peak, leaving many small colleges scrambling.  Here in Virginia, enrollment has largely been steady, but two small colleges closed in the last two years, and others have sounded the alarm on declining enrollment or missed targeted growth.  Every struggling college certainly has its own history and unique problems.  But larger trends always pick off stragglers.  In Warren Buffet’s words, “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s been swimming naked.”  And the tide appears to be going out.

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An article at the Urbanophile gives us a helpful graphic explaining the old and new “Donut” conceptions of the city.  In the “Old Donut,” we have an impoverished central city with a ring of thriving suburbs around it.

OldDonutAn example of that model appears in this graph, which shows the percentage of adults over 25 with college degrees in the Charlotte, NC metro area in 1990.  The x-axis is distance from the center of downtown.

charlotte1990

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