School Enrollment in a Post-Pandemic Virginia

On January 13th, the Demographics Research Group provided a presentation to the State Senate Finance & Appropriations Subcommittee for K-12 Education. In our presentation, we focused on the impact that births and private education will have on enrollment in 2020s. The following post is a summary of the trends included in that presentation.

Before the pandemic began in 2020, the number of students in Virginia’s public schools had been growing steadily for decades. During the 2010s, the K-12 enrollment in Virginia public schools overall increased by 42,000 students. At the locality level, however, public school enrollment trends were much more mixed. In fact, most of Virginia’s school divisions experienced a decline in enrollment but its ten largest school divisions added more than enough students to make up for enrollment losses elsewhere in the Commonwealth. The pandemic, however, has significantly altered school enrollment trends: The gains in public school enrollment seen in the 2010s have been erased, while enrollment in homeschooling and private schools has grown substantially as many parents have opted to educate their children privately.

K-12 Enrollment Change 2010 to 2019

Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count

The recent decline in public school enrollment and the surge in homeschooling and private schooling have both been widely reported but what is less commonly known is that well before the pandemic began, enrollment in Virginia public schools was on track to begin declining in the early 2020s. The first indicator of school enrollment decline in Virginia was in the fall of 2013, when Virginia’s entering kindergarten class was substantially smaller than the year before. By 2015, Virginia’s total elementary school enrollment had declined after several years of increasingly smaller kindergarten classes. By this fall, even without the pandemic, Virginia’s public school enrollment was expected to enter an indefinite period of enrollment decline—with close to 50,000 fewer students by 2030. Continue reading “School Enrollment in a Post-Pandemic Virginia”

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Comparing 2020 Virginia Population Projections to the Census Count

Population projections provide an approximate idea of the expected future population size and are used in urban planning, resource allocation for emergency services, prioritizing public and private investments, and in many other ways. By using past observations with present trends and making certain plausible assumptions, we built the official 2020 projected population for each of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties

Even though the future is largely unknown and unpredictable, at the start of each decade, we get a chance to compare the accuracy of our projections with the U.S. Decennial Census data. This allows us to ensure that our projection methods are guided by rigorous demographic and statistical standards, and produce reasonable numbers at both the locality and state levels when carefully tested against Census data. Continue reading “Comparing 2020 Virginia Population Projections to the Census Count”

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Why 2020 Census data needs to be treated with caution

It is difficult to name any data source that is more reputable than the U.S. decennial census data, which is collected every ten years. The enormous effort to collect the demographic information of every U.S. resident for the 2020 Census required half a million workers and a budget of over 14 billion dollars (more than the total funding provided to the National Weather Service over the last ten years). Yet, despite the vast amount of time and money spent on the census, much of the 2020 Census data released earlier this month will be difficult or impossible to use. This is due, in part, to disruptions to census operations as a result of the pandemic and, in part, to a series of decisions made by the Census Bureau to distort most 2020 data prior to releasing it.

To help data users process the 2020 census results, we will be analyzing 2020 Census data and sharing our findings, including important demographic trends that are clear in the data and some of the key problems we’ve identified in the data. One overall observation is that Census 2020 data tends to be more reliable for larger areas and populations whereas in Virginia’s smaller localities, data errors and distortions are much more common. Continue reading “Why 2020 Census data needs to be treated with caution”

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Who Practices What Religion Where in Virginia?

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.

Continue reading “Who Practices What Religion Where in Virginia?”

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How accurate are our 50-State population projections?

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.

Continue reading “How accurate are our 50-State population projections?”

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Why are so many Asian Americans unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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.

Unemp by Race Continue reading “Why are so many Asian Americans unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

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The Misleading Narrative of a Disappearing White Majority

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. Continue reading “The Misleading Narrative of a Disappearing White Majority”

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COVID-19 becomes the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States

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 Continue reading “COVID-19 becomes the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States”

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Crime and Police Data in Virginia

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

Continue reading “Crime and Police Data in Virginia”

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Will Covid-19 accelerate the growth in homeschooling in Virginia?

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. Continue reading “Will Covid-19 accelerate the growth in homeschooling in Virginia?”

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