Category Archives: Demographics

Feeling Pretty Good: C-ville and Lynchburg

Charlottesville ranked 6th nationally in the Gallup/Healthways ranking of community well being, Lynchburg 8th.

Charlottesville ranked 6th nationally in the Gallup/Healthways ranking of community well being, Lynchburg 8th.

When evaluating community well being, statisticians tend to focus on objective criteria such as average income, tax levels, educational achievement, life expectancy and the like. But there also are subjective criteria involving how people feel about things. Gallup Inc., the polling organization, has partnered with Healthways, a well being and wellness provider to employers, to measure how people feel.

According to the Gallup-Healthways 2016 Community Well-Being Rankings, inhabitants of two metros in Virginia are feeling pretty darned good about themselves: Charlottesville and Lynchburg. Charlottesville scored fifth out of 189 metros on the survey, Lynchburg 8th.

Virginia’s other metros didn’t fare so well. Washington ranked 44th, Richmond 106th, Virginia Beach 107th, and Roanoke 168th. The state of Virginia scored a meager 21st among the 50 states.

Definitions of Gallup-Healthways well-being categories.

The big question is, how did Charlottesville and Lynchburg do it? One thing they have in common with each other and other high-scoring metros is size. Their populations are small compared to other metros. Big metros did not fare well in this survey. Also, both are big college towns — the University of Virginia in one, Liberty University in the other. But otherwise, they would seem to have little in common. Politically, the Charlottesville area leans liberal/Democrat, Lynchburg conservative/ Republican. Charlottesville leans secular, Lynchburg leans religious.

Still, both communities scored high  in the “social” ranking — “having supportive relationships and love in  your life.” Charlottesville did especially well in the “physical” component of the index, having good health and energy, while Lynchburg excelled in its community feeling, “liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Gallup/Healthways provide a useful service by quantifying community attributes that aren’t captured in government statistics. There’s more to life than GDP and household income. That’s always worth remembering.

How Virginia’s Slowing Population Growth Plays Out Locally

Virginia's population growth is slowing, but four distinct patterns emerge within the state.

Virginia’s population growth is slowing overall, but four distinct patterns emerge within the state.

Speaking of slower population growth… Even though Virginia’s population growth is slowing overall, the dynamics play out differently at a local and regional level.

Luke Juday, director of planning for the City of Waynesboro, has developed a useful schema for examining Virginia’s cities and counties. He has created a matrix based on two variables: whether a locality is experiencing net in-migration or out-migration, and whether it is experiencing natural increase or natural decrease. Writing in the January 2017 issue of the Virginia News Letter, he describes four categories:

Booming. Booming localities are experiencing both in-migration and natural population increase. One sub-set of this group consists of central metropolitan areas such as Arlington County, and the cities of Alexandria, Charlottesville and Richmond, which are experiencing a renaissance fueled by waves of incoming young adults. Another sub-set is comprised of suburban or exurban counties experiencing significant in-migration. Three examples are Montgomery, Albemarle and Rockingham counties.

The great challenge for booming counties, writes Juday, is accommodating that growth. Providing room for an expanding population can keep housing prices from skyrocketing, thus avoiding future issues. On the other hand, these localities need to be sure that what they build withstands the test of time.

Shedding. Shedding communities continue to gain population through natural increase but are experiencing out-migration. Examples include Fairfax County, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and Newport News. In some instances, the key driver is a high cost of housing and limited housing options that push young families out of the jurisdiction. In others, however, Juday suggests, inner cities may be affordable but they’re not desirable. The challenge is to find new ways to add housing and/or make the locality a more attractive place to live.

Attracting. These communities are losing population through natural decrease, yet still manage to attract in-migration. This pattern is particularly common in the New River, Central Piedmont, Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay areas that can exploit their natural beauty to attract older adults in compensation of lower birth rates.

Declining. Declining localities are experiencing both out-migration and natural decrease. Residents are aging, and no one is replacing them. These counties are concentrated in Southwest and Southside Virginia, with a smattering along the Blue Ridge. These jurisdictions face the greatest challenge. How do they promote economic development, and how do they maintain the level of government services?

Declining localities, suggests Juday, need to cope with eroding populations the same way that Youngstown, Ohio, did in the 1990s: planning for population decrease by structuring public service and infrastructure projects to be sustainable with a smaller population. Regional cooperation is one way to accomplish that aim.

For both attracting and declining communities, Juday also suggests linking to a nearby metropolitan area to entice highly educated and well-paid commuters to patronize local services and agricultural businesses. Such a strategy would likely be more successful than trying to attract new industry. Floyd County reversed population by attracting workers who enjoyed the county’s quality of life and commuted to the Blacksburg metropolitan area. Counties outside of Washington, D.C., have seen similar trends.

Similarly, these localities can find ways to serve metropolitan economies from afar, most obviously by attracting retirees and vacationers. The Chesapeake Bay counties, Blue Ridge counties, and counties around Smith Mountain Lake have reinvigorated local economies by appealing to outsiders who build and purchase homes.

Graph of the Day: People Still Leaving Virginia

Virginia lost population through out-migration for the third year running in 2014-2015, according to IRS tax return data. As a consequence, the Old Dominion grew by the smallest number — 44,000 residents — since the 1970s. What little growth that did occur could be attributed to natural increase, births over deaths, write Hamilton Lombard and Kathryn Crespin in the StatChat blog.

Fairfax County net out-migration to counties shown in red, in-migration from counties shown in green. Source: StatChat.

Lombard and Crespin attribute the poor growth numbers to an economy pummeled by sequestration-related cutbacks in federal spending. More people have been leaving Northern Virginia, once the state’s population powerhouse, than have been moving in. The authors honed in on Fairfax County, the most populous county in Northern Virginia (and the state). Their data show that the county still draws in-migrants from the northeast corridor but is losing population to downstate Virginia, Florida, the Carolinas and Texas.

The StatChat post also examines demographic shifts by age. Virginia counties and cities with fewer than 100,000 residents (a proxy for rural/small-town Virginia) actually gained modestly among school-age children and folks over 35 but lost thousands of residents in the young adult cohort between 2000 and 2010 (preceding the previously described data). By contrast, larger localities saw big gains in young adults and a loss of 60- to 75-year-olds.

The data suggest to Lombard and Crespin that a temporary sequestration-related drain of Northern Virginia population is overlaid on a longer-term trend of rural/small town decline. “Even if the new administration and Congress decide to end the federal budget sequestration,” they write, “Virginia’s smaller communities won’t necessarily see increased in-migration and population growth as a result.”

A New Toy for Wonks: Interactive Death Map

Virginia death map

Mortality rates, all causes, 2014. Source: U.S. Health Map.

Virginia has mortality rates roughly in line with the national average, although there are wide variations within the state, as can be seen in part in this image captured from the U.S. Health Map published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Not surprisingly, the highest mortality rates are found in the impoverished Southwest and Southside regions.

The very highest mortality rates within the Old Dominion are located in the far Southwest. Excepting a handful of localities in the Dakotas (which I suspect are home to Indian reservations) the highest mortality rates in the country are in the Central Appalachia. This is coal mining country, and it should come as no surprise that the population there has the nation’s highest rate of respiratory-related fatalities, no doubt reflecting the prevalence of black lung disease.

Virginia’s coal-mining counties share many economic and cultural attributes with their super high-mortality neighbors across the border in Kentucky and West Virginia. I’m not sure why the mortality rates on the Virginia side of the border are notably lower (though still high by comparison with the rest of the state). The rate of chronic respiratory disease is just as high in  Virginia’s coal-mining counties. Mental and substance abuse disorders are almost as high.

But mortality from cardiovascular disease is measurably lower. Why would that be? Is poverty is less endemic? Is there a better (or less bad) health care system? Whatever the reason, it bears analysis.

What the 50 States Would Look Like If…

new_fifty_states

Click for larger image.

Here’s what the 50 states would look like if they were based upon contemporary economic realities — commuting patterns — instead of geography and history. The map is based upon research by Garrett Nelson, a historical geographer at Dartmouth College. “Why should we think that areas which were drawn up for horses and buggies still make sense for interstates and telecommuting?” he rhetorically asked the Washington Post.

I expect such a division would make many Northern Virginia readers happy. I’m pretty partial myself to Virginia’s current boundaries. As publisher of a state-focused blog, I’d hate to limit my pontificating to a Norfolk-Richmond-Charlottesville-Staunton axis — although picking up North Carolina’s Outer Banks would have its consolations.

Number of High School Grads Leveling Off

Projected number of Virginia high school graduates through 2034

Yearly number of Virginia high school graduates. Source: “Knocking at the College Door.

Virginia should experience a surge in the number of high school graduates through 2025 before dropping off by 2030, bucking a national trend in which the number declines by 4%. The projections made by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education are designed to help state systems of higher education conduct their long-term planning.

Trends differ sharply by region, notes the report, “Knocking at the College Door.” The proportion of high school graduates in the South actually is expected to increase: from about 33% of all graduates nationally in the early 2000s to 47% by 2025. That increase will be more than offset by declining numbers of graduates in the Northeastern and Midwestern states.

Nationally, the decline will be driven primarily by a shrinking number (and percentage) of white high school graduates, while the percentage of Asians and Hispanics increase and the percentage of blacks remain roughly the same.

racial_breakdown

Virginia high school graduates by race/ethnicity.

Private schools: The number of private school graduates from Virginia is projected to decrease sharply: 31% by 2031-32. That translates into 2,000 fewer per year. As a percentage of all Virginia high school grads, private schoolers should decline from 7.2% of the total in 2010-11 to 5.1% by 2031-32.

The report provided no explanation for Virginia’s precipitous drop in the number of private schoolers, but atributed the slide nationally to large declines in the number of Catholic schools

Chart of the Day: Shrinking Workforce

workforce_growth

Map credit: StatChat blog

This chart, published by Hamilton Lombard on the StatChat blog, shows how the working-age population of the United States has begun shrinking in much of the United States. While metropolitan areas still experience a growing workforce as they suck up labor from rural counties, even urban growth is slower than it was ten to fifteen years ago.

Workforce growth 2000-2005.

Workforce growth 2000-2005.

The downside of this trend, is that working Americans will have to support a fast-growing population of elderly Americans, along with the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs that benefit them. As has been widely publicized, government will become increasingly hard-pressed to finance these entitlements in the absence of meaningful reform.

The bright side of the story is that intensifying competition for workers should translate into lower unemployment and higher wages, assuming the economy can continue to produce even modest job growth. (The next U.S. president, whoever he or she is, will no doubt claim credit for the benefits of demographic shifts forces over which they have no influence whatsoever.)

Here in Virginia, the public policy apparatus has not begun to think seriously about the implications of a stagnant workforce. “With shrinking workforces and lower unemployment rates, most rural areas will need to change their focus toward attracting workers rather than just keeping them,” says Lombard.

The same can be said of urban areas as well. If metropolitan areas want to grow, they, too, will need to change their focus to attracting workers. Fifteen years ago, urban geographer Richard Florida noted that corporate investment chased the workforce, especially what he termed the “creative class.” As the nation enters a no-growth phase for the workforce, that phenomenon should intensify. Virginia communities will need to re-think what constitutes economic development. Instead of using subsidies and tax breaks to lure corporate investment, communities should expend resources to create the amenities that lure young workers, especially skilled and educated members of the creative class. Attract the workforce, and the corporate investment will follow.

 — JAB

Virginia Welfare Trends

I came across some interesting data on the Virginia Department of Social Services website showing the number of Virginians receiving social welfare benefits. I offer the data without commentary. — JAB

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance PrograM (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

medicaid_enrollment

Medicaid

Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Energy Assistance -- heating and cooling

Energy Assistance — heating and cooling

Energy Assistance -- crisis

Energy Assistance — crisis

Hospitalization claims

Hospitalization claims

General relief

General relief

Virginia Needs More Vikings and Mormons

What we're missing in Virginia

What we’re lackng in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

One of the most intriguing disciplines of social scientific study in the 21st  century explores the social and economic dimensions of happiness. Academics routinely rank the nations of the world and, less consistently, the fifty states. Our friends at WalletHub have taken a crack at devising their own state-by-state breakdown. But instead of polling people on how happy they are, the financial services website looks at a basket of 28 metrics measuring emotional and physical well being, the work environment and the community & environment. (To view the methodology click here.)

As the 21st happiest state, the glorious commonwealth of Virginia fares better than average, but it’s hardly a Shangri-la. The Old Dominion scores best (10th) in the “community & environment” cluster of metrics, which includes such measures as the volunteerism rate, leisure time, the divorce rate and safety. But it runs in the middle of the pack for emotional & physical well-being (22nd) and work environment (23rd).

We can take some comfort in being the happiest of the Southern states, but that’s setting a low bar.. We lag New England, the West Coast, and a vast bloc of states stretching in the northern plains and Inter-Mountain states. The happiest states are Utah (loaded with Mormons) and Minnesota and North Dakota (chock full of Scandinavian-Americans).

Is it coincidence that the happiest countries in the world — Denmark (#1), Norway (#4), Finland (#5) and Sweden (#8) — are Scandinavian while two of the three happiest states are inhabited mainly by Americans of Scandinavian descent?

I think not. My light, night-time reading at the moment, “Debunking Utopia,” takes a close-up look at the Scandinavian welfare states. One of several fascinating arguments advanced by the author (an Iranian immigrant to Sweden, incidentally) is that the Scandinavian countries are homogeneous societies marked by high degrees of social cohesion, shared values, personal responsibility and trust. As it happens, those traits are associated to a large degree with happiness. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the descendants of Scandinavians, who shared those ancestral traits, are among the happiest of all Americans.

(Both Scandinavians and Scandinavian Americans also are taciturn, as lamented in another book I’ve been reading, “Lab Girl,” but luckily for them gregariousness is not a big predictor of happiness.)

Likewise, Mormons are notable for their social cohesion, shared values, personal responsibility and trust, so it should come as no surprise that Utah and neighboring states with large Mormon populations also score high in the WalletHub rankings.

One of Virginia’s misfortunes, it appears, is to suffer a paucity of Mormons and Scandinavians. If we want to increase our share of  happiness, we need to import more Mormons and Scandinavians. There may be more to it than that, but that’s my story right now, and I’m sticking to it.

Move to the City, Young Man, Move to the City

Image credit: StatChat

Image credit: StatChat

Virginians are most likely to move to another jurisdiction when they reach age 18 and head to college and again as they establish themselves in the job market. As they grow older and sink personal and professional roots in a community, their proclivity for moving steadily declines. Only when Virginians hit retirement age does the trend line level off. The pattern is shown clearly in the chart above, taken from Hamilton Lombard’s latest blog post on the StatChat blog.

Equally interesting is Lombard’s map showing where young people (15 to 24 years old) are moving from, and where they’re moving to. No surprise here: They’re moving from rural and suburban counties to college towns and urban-core jurisdictions.

migration_map

Image credit: StatChat. Click for larger image.

What does that mean for public policy in Virginia? Writes Lombard:

The rise in college attendance rates and the common need to move to large urban centers for graduates to find jobs are both likely helping drive the increasing flow of young adults into Virginia’s urban areas and communities with universities. The inflow of young adults into Virginia’s cities has boosted their workforce noticeably and helped support the revival in growth that many cities in Virginia are experiencing. But as an increasing share of young adults have remained in cities after starting families, it has also forced many urban localities, such as Arlington and Falls Church, to reevaluate their long-term planning as demand for housing and school spaces have surged.

Conversely, he writes, “A smaller working age population has typically also meant fewer families with children in rural counties, often slowing population growth and in many cases causing population decline.”

If there is a consolation for rural counties, the outflow of young people is offset to some degree by an influx of retirement-age Virginians. As Lombard speculates: “Many the older people that rural counties are attracting are likely the same ones that moved away for college or work decades ago.”

— JAB