Can Virginia’s cities keep growing?

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. Continue reading “Can Virginia’s cities keep growing?”

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Are women in Virginia choosing to have children later in life?


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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Visualizing the age structure of Virginia’s local and regional populations

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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What is considered a rural area?

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. Continue reading “What is considered a rural area?”

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Is population decline bad?

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. Continue reading “Is population decline bad?”

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2017 estimates show growth slowing, with most concentrated in Northern Virginia

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. Continue reading “2017 estimates show growth slowing, with most concentrated in Northern Virginia”

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What is the biggest demographic trend in Virginia?

Every year the Demographics Research Group is asked to give presentations on Virginia’s demographic trends, and this year, as is true every year, the demographic trends we explored depended on our audience’s area of interest  —school enrollment change for the Board of Education, population growth trends for the House Appropriations Committee, or population projections for the Virginia Planning Association. However, behind all of these trends, there was one significant driving factor: aging. The aging of Baby Boomers is not only swelling the 65+ population, but is also having a ripple effect across all age groups, slowing growth in the working-age population and often causing decline in the school-age population.

The growth in Virginia’s population over age 65 is a widely known trend and is commonly recognized as the most significant demographic change currently taking place across the U.S. But the expected rate of growth in the 65+ population is still stunning. In just 20 years (between 2010 and 2030), Virginia’s population age 65 and older is expected to jump from 976,937 to 1,803,404, contributing to the majority of Virginia’s population growth during the period. Outside of Northern Virginia, 85 percent of the projected population growth is predicted to come from those 65 and older. Benjamin Franklin famously said “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Barring a catastrophic spike in deaths, the aging of Virginia’s population is also a certainty.

Population Pyramids for Virginia

Source: 2010 Decennial Census and UVA Weldon Cooper Center Age Projections Continue reading “What is the biggest demographic trend in Virginia?”

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Youth labor force participation and workplace readiness in Virginia

Recently, the Cooper Center’s Demographics Research Group (on behalf of Virginia’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education) collected feedback about the workplace readiness skills of entry-level workers from nearly 400 Virginia employers and workforce professionals. One of the comments most frequently made by the survey respondents was that young, entry-level workers need more hands-on/real-life work experience to prepare them for the demands of the workplace. Youth labor force participation has recently been declining, however, which means that a larger share of this age group is postponing their obtainment of the valuable work experience that employers desire.

As the graphs below demonstrate, while Virginia labor force participation from 2001 to 2016 increased by 59 percent among those age 65 or older and decreased by only 3 percent among 25-to-64-year-olds, it decreased by 11 percent among 20-to-24-year-olds and by 24 percent among those age 16 to 19. At the national level, the recent labor force participation rate among teens—including in the summer months—is the lowest it has been since Current Population Survey (CPS) data were first collected in 1948.

Blog photo-CPS line graph

Blog photo-Bar graph

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics,  (*2016 data are preliminary)

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Out-migration from Virginia continues for a fourth consecutive year

Late last week the IRS released their annual migration flows data, which showed that more people are moving out of Virginia than into it for the fourth year in a row. Virginia’s recent shift into out-migration is notable because prior to 2013, the IRS had never recorded out-migration for Virginia since it first began publishing migration data in 1978.  Though Virginia’s population is not declining, it is now dependent on having more births than deaths to continue growing.  As a result, Virginia’s population growth has slowed from around 90,000 annually during the 2000s to close to 50,000 annually during the past four years.1990 to 2016 Virginia Migration

*Census migration data (2014-15 net domestic migration). IRS migration data (total net migration) used for all other years. Though the 2014-2015 IRS data showed a similar trend, changes in the way the IRS published the data affected the comparability of 2014-15 IRS migration data with data from other years.  Continue reading “Out-migration from Virginia continues for a fourth consecutive year”

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U.S. House districts are colossal. What’s the right size?

The recent wave of populism and anti-establishment voting behavior in the United States made me want to take a closer look at how the structure of the U.S. political representation system might be contributing to the development of these sentiments. In what ways has this system fallen short, for example, in responding effectively to U.S. population growth and distribution over time—perhaps aggravating a sense of political alienation among voters?

Part of the problem is that the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives—the “people’s chamber”—has been frozen at 435 for over a century despite the addition of four new states to the Union and an increase of nearly 220 million residents to our nation’s population during that time. As the graph below demonstrates, the average number of people served by each House member has increased from 34,436 in 1790 to 710,767 in 2010 and could potentially reach over 874,000 by 2040 if the cap on House size is not removed.

District Size

Sources: Population Data – U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census Apportionment Data, Table B; 2000/2010 Census Apportionment Data, Table 1; 2014 National Population Projections, Table 1
*No apportionment was made on the basis of the 1920 Census.

Continue reading “U.S. House districts are colossal. What’s the right size?”

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