Both of us—one a demographer and one a religious studies grad student—have long been interested in the demographics of religion. Teaming up allowed us the opportunity to merge personal interest with professional curiosity and explore the religious makeup of Virginia and its localities—specifically, the importance of geography in determining a region’s religious characterization. Were individuals more likely to live in a certain location if they practiced a particular religion? Does the assumption that major metro areas are more likely to harbor diverse religious communities’ hold true within the Commonwealth?


Figure 1: Largest Non-Christian Religious Group by State in 2010  (Click on map to enlarge)

Major religions practiced in VA

Looking at national religious trends, Christianity continues to be the dominant religion in the United States. In many respects, the Commonwealth of Virginia mirrors the religious attitudes of the nation. 73% of VA residents self-identify as Christian, just above the national average of 71% found by the Pew Research Center. Of those that do not identify as Christian, 20% reported being religiously unaffiliated, while only 6% identified with a non-Christian religion. Islam is the second largest religious group in VA, as it is in most of the southern U.S., including VA’s neighbors of West Virginia and North Carolina.

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Whenever a prediction, forecast, or projection for the future is made, the natural question that arises is “how good is it?” After our office prepared population projections for the 50 states and D.C., we’ve been eagerly awaiting the 2020 Census results so we can answer this question for ourselves.

The answer: the accuracy of our projections is very good!

While the newly released 2020 Census count provides a once-in-a-decade snapshot of the current size of the population, it also allows us to evaluate the precision of the population projections our office produced for the nation as a whole and for all 50 states by comparing it to the actual Census head count.

Nationally, we projected the 2020 U.S. population to be 332,527,548, which is slightly over the Census count of 331,449,281, representing a difference of 0.33%. Our projection is also slightly closer to the actual count than the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest1 projection of 332,639,000.

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Asians wearing masks

An intriguing phenomenon

In the past, Asians in the US consistently enjoyed low unemployment across all racial groups, even in 2009−the worst year of the Great Recession. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Asians experienced unemployment rates higher than Whites, peaking at 15% in May 2020. Even as the economy started to improve and the unemployment rate began to drop in recent months, the recovery for Asians was slow, and unemployment remained uncharacteristically high.

This is puzzling. Why are things different with Asians this time around?

Overall, adults who have at least a college degree have experienced lower unemployment during the pandemic. Asians have the highest level of educational attainment of all racial groups: 56% of Asians ages 25 and above have a college degree or higher, compared to 35% among Whites. Based on education, we would expect Asian unemployment to be low, but this wasn’t the case.

A few unique demographic, cultural, and geographic aspects about Asian Americans are presented in this article to help explain why Asians are experiencing uncharacteristically high unemployment during the pandemic. We suspect, in addition to involuntary unemployment, perhaps there also was a significant amount of voluntary unemployment—opting out of the work— among Asians, due to a greater awareness of COVID-19 and its fatal consequences.

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First picture

Categories that are inaccurate

For more than thirty years, media headlines have touted a population tipping point in which the white majority is overtaken numerically by minorities of all other races and ethnicities. These headlines are misleading. The “white” majority only seems to be disappearing because a growing number of white Americans are counted as minorities in many applications of census data. Two examples in the public sphere illustrate the point.

Consider actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar, for instance, best known as blonde haired heartthrob Zack Morris from the early-90s sitcom, Saved by the Bell. Most viewers would consider Gosselaar to be white. If Gosselaar, who once quipped, “People don’t know that Zack Morris is half Asian,” identified himself as both white and Asian on the Census, he would be tabulated by the Census as a person of “two or more races,” which is a category classified as a minority – thereby no longer counting him as white or Asian. Read Full Article →

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

Top-10 cause of death - US Read Full Article →

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.



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 →