As the economy has strengthened in recent years, home prices have risen in much of the U.S., with the median home sale price recently passing its pre-recession peak. Virginians who rent are also spending more of their income on housing than during the 2000s housing bubble. Though household incomes in Virginia have been increasing since the end of the recession and currently are at an all-time high, the median rent in Virginia has risen three times as quickly as income over the past ten years. Among Virginian’s who are in the second from the lowest income quartile (households earning between 35 and 75 thousand dollars), the share spending more than the HUD recommended limit of 30 percent of their income on rent has continued to climb since the recession, reaching 41 percent last year, nearly double prerecession levels. Likely due to the high cost of housing and rent, the share of young adults between ages 18 and 34 who live with their parents or other relatives has also continued to rise since the recession, passing 45 percent last year.  Virginia Renters Spending More Than 30 Percent of Income on Housing

Source: 2005 and 2017 Census Bureau American Community Survey

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Households can be one of two things: owned or rented. The homeownership rate equals the share of households that are owned. Therefore, a rise in the homeownership rate indicates a rise in the number of households electing to own their home rather than rent in a given area. Essentially, homeownership can provide an idea of where householders have the best chances of buying a home if they so desire.

Virginia is just now seeing the first significant increase in homeownership since before the housing crisis. According to annual data from the American Community Survey, two-thirds of occupied homes in Virginia were owned in 2017 – a 1.3 percent increase over 2016. Homeownership is increasing at an even greater rate among members of Virginia’s younger generation, who are catching up following the negative impact of the recession. Young adults, defined here as those age 15 to 34, had a homeownership rate increase of 1.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching 34.8 percent. The homeownership rate among those other than young adults (greater than 34 years old) was 73.7 percent – an increase of 1.0 percent.

How does young Virginian homeownership vary across the state? What underlying causes are driving changes in the homeownership rate? What does this information indicate and imply for Virginia counties and cities? This commentary aims to explore the above questions.


Figure 1: Change in Homeownership Rate from the Previous Year in Virginia, 2006-2017

Figure 1

Source: Census Bureau American Community Survey, 1-year estimates

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After watching the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” I wondered if it is accurate to label Asians in the United States and, specifically in Virginia, as rich. After delving into American Community Census data, I discovered that, in fact, Asians have been the wealthiest group in the United States for over three decades, and the wealthiest in Virginia as well.

Based on the 2017 American Community Survey data, the median household income for Asian in the U.S. was $83,456, the highest among all races and ethnicities.

Graph 1
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates


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Perhaps the most surprising demographic trend over the past decade in Virginia—and much of the U.S.—has been the resurgence of growth in cities after nearly half a century of population decline or stagnation. In the early 2000s, after the population of Virginia’s independent cities hit their lowest point since the 1950 census, many of Virginia’s cities began growing again. Local zoning reforms, changing property development models, and a renewed public interest in urban centers all helped fuel the recent growth. Yet the recent population growth trend in Virginia’s cities may be more fragile than it appears; Virginia’s cities experienced their most rapid growth during the last recession when the economy and strict mortgage regulations made it difficult to buy a home. Now that the economy and housing markets are the strongest they have been in over a decade, migration out of many of Virginia’s cities is rising.City Population 1960 to 2017

Source: Weldon Cooper Center Population Estimates and the Decennial Census. The consolidated city-counties are not included in the population total. Read Full Article →


According to the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 Vital Statistics Rapid Release, the provisional number of births for the U.S. (at 3,853,472) declined for the third year in a row since 2014 and was the lowest count in the last 30 years. Related fertility statistics also reflect this trend, with the average number of children per woman in the United States (1.76) hitting a 39 year low since 1978; while the birth rate reached a record minimum as well (60.2 per 1000 women aged 15-44).

Fertility Trends

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Population pyramids are graphs that show the distribution of a population by age group and sex. Bars representing age groups are stacked from youngest at the bottom of the graph to oldest on the top. A vertical axis in the center of the graph separates males from females in each age group. To enable standardized comparisons of populations of different sizes, the graphs often display the population of each age group by sex as a percentage of the total population rather than as a raw population number.

The interactive data visualization below shows population pyramids for the Commonwealth of Virginia and each of its localities and regions, including 15 workforce regions (Local Workforce Investment Areas) as well as eight regions defined by Cooper Center researchers. The visualization was created using the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates of state and county resident populations by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin.



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Until relatively recently in history, it was easy to determine whether a place was urban or rural. Walking was the main way to get around, so a strong incentive existed for urban areas to remain compact. But with transportation improvements, particularly highway construction since 1945, the boundaries between urban and rural areas have grown increasingly blurry. Knowing these boundaries, however, is important. With the decline in agricultural and manufacturing employment, the socioeconomic differences between much of rural and urban Virginia has increased.Virginia's Rural-Urban Divide

Source: Census 2012-2016 ACS, using USDA Rural Urban Commuting Codes to define Virginia rural and urban areas. 

Currently, there are at least 15 different federal definitions of what is considered rural. By far, the two most commonly used definitions are from the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget. The Census Bureau defines rural as any place that is located outside a dense urban area (which is as an area with a population greater than 2,500). This is a more traditional definition of a rural area in that it focuses on population density. The Office of Management and Budget defines a county as non-metro (which is typically considered rural) if it does not have a Census Urban Area with a population over 50,000 or a large share of their workforce commuting into a nearby urban area. Including commuter counties as part of a metro area (which is typically considered urban) helps take account for the blurring of rural-urban boundaries that has occurred since World War Two. Read Full Article →

There is a lot of data out there.

Visualizing Virginia is a project about making large amounts of information easier to digest in an efficient way. While reviewing ideas about how to present Virginia’s diverse regions (read about how we defined 8 regions for Virginia)and localities, we recognized that presenting summary statistics and looking only at regional trends would not show the whole picture. We wanted to also capture the unique stories of the many communities that make up Virginia. With this in mind, we developed seven visualizations that simultaneously reflect local, regional, and statewide data, so that readers can see the contours of a demographic dynamic in a locality, compare that dynamic to nearby localities and the region, and the regions overall to the state. The series of visualizations depict population size and growth, age, education, unemployment, income, and poverty for Virginia’s regions and localities.
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Soon after Mike Duggan was elected Mayor of Detroit in 2013, a city that has lost over half its population since 1950, he stated that: “the single standard a mayor should be defined on is whether the population of the city is going up or going down.” Since Duggan’s election, Detroit’s unemployment rate has been nearly halved, while its economy has grown faster than the country overall. Today, Detroit’s gross domestic product is the highest it has been since the 1990s, when the city’s population was 30 percent larger. Yet Detroit’s population has continued declining each year since Duggan’s election.Detroit Population and Gross City Product

Source: Census American Community Survey and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

While Virginia’s population trends are quite different than in Detroit, much of the Commonwealth is also experiencing population decline with the majority of its counties losing population since 2010, according to the 2017 population estimates. As a result, discussions about population decline have become more prevalent in Virginia, often with the presumption that population loss indicates a larger problem within a community. Read Full Article →

For decades, Virginia’s population has grown steadily, adding around 900,000 residents each decade. After accounting for slowing growth due to an aging population, Virginia’s population should have increased by around 590,000 residents by this point in the decade; however, the Weldon Cooper Center’s 2017 population estimates show that Virginia’s population has only grown by 469,000 residents since 2010. This slowdown in population growth means that Virginia has over 100,000 fewer residents than expected, the equivalent of Albemarle or Spotsylvania County.Annual Population Growth

Source:Census Bureau State Population Estimates

The most obvious reason why Virginia’s population has grown more slowly than expected over the past few years is the federal budget sequestration which has hobbled Virginia’s economy, particularly in Northern Virginia. Since the federal budget sequestration began in 2013, Virginia has had more people moving out than in each year. A rise in retirees leaving Virginia for warmer climates and young adults moving to metro areas with stronger economies and cheaper housing has also boosted out-migration from Virginia. Read Full Article →