Category Archives: Demographics

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

Map of the Day: Hopewell Turns Minority-Majority

Map credit: Wall Street Journal

Map credit: Wall Street Journal

Note the presence of the city of Hopewell, Va., on this map. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hopewell was one of seven counties where racial minorities came to comprise a majority in 2015. Of the nation’s 3,142 counties, 12% are minority-majorities now.

— JAB

The Metropolitanization of Virginia

1990 commuting patterns. The darker the color, the longer the average commute.

1990 commuting patterns. The darker the color, the longer the average commute. Source: StatChat

by James A. Bacon

A couple of weeks ago, three guys came rolling through my neighborhood in a heavy pickup truck and pitched me on cutting down some dead limbs and trees in my back yard. They lived in Rappahannock County, they said; they’d spent three hours driving to Richmond looking for work and when they finished with us would spend three hours driving home. Their routine, they said, was to hit the sack, get some sleep, and then get up early in the morning and repeat the ordeal.

The story is testimony to many things, including the lengths to which some people will go to earning a living. But it is also an example of how the workforce in lightly populated “rural” counties, where inhabitants once farmed or worked in light manufacturing, is getting sucked into the orbit of Virginia’s larger metropolitan regions.

2014 commuting patterns.

2014 commuting patterns.

Many commentators on urban affairs, myself included, have tended to view the steady geographic expansion of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as a consequence of so-called “suburban sprawl,” the pattern of low-density, hop-scotch development — urban areas pushing outward. And that remains the dominant explanation for the ever-expanding size of our MSAs. But Hamilton Lombard, writing in the StatChat blog, notes that there’s more to the story:

Workers in “rural” counties are commuting to metropolitan areas in search of work: “Agricultural employment declined in nearly every rural U.S. county, while manufacturing jobs in most small towns also began to disappear by the 1980s. The result of these two trends has been that residents in most rural counties have grown more dependent on nearby cities for jobs. …  In many rural counties … the proportion of workers commuting to a nearby city has risen above a quarter of all workers, causing counties to become part of another city’s metropolitan area.

In Virginia, the portion of commuters who traveled over an hour each way to work rose from 6.5 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2014. But in rural areas that are within commuting distance of city centers, the percent of residents who drove over 60 minutes to get to work often doubled or tripled in the same period. In some counties on the edges of large metro areas, such as Warren County, Virginia, located 70 miles west of Washington DC, it is common for between a quarter and a third of residents to commute more than an hour to get to work.

As an example, Lombard points to Floyd County, which was incorporated into the Blacksburg MSA in 2013. The 20th century saw the transformation of Floyd’s economic base from agriculture to manufacturing, and then the hollowing out of manufacturing. But the growth of Virginia Tech and Radford Universities created jobs for Floyd residents willing to make the commute. As a bedroom community, Floyd’s population has rebounded to levels last seen in 1900, .

Given this analysis, the hollowing out of Virginia’s “rural” economy is even worse than it appears from traditional unemployment figures. An increasing number of Virginians outside the metropolitan areas stay employed by commuting long distances to wherever they can find jobs.

Virginia 11th Best for Veteran Retirees

Source: WalletHub

Virginia scores a disappointing 11th place in WalletHub’s ranking of the “2016 Best & Worst States for Military Retirees” based on 20 metrics encompassing economic environment, quality of life and health care.

The Old Dominion racked up creditable 3rd place for economic environment (eight metrics including state taxes on military pensions and percentage of veteran-owned businesses, among others) and 4th place for quality-of-life (seven metrics including veterans per capita and percentage of homeless veterans). But the state scored a dismal 48th place finish for health care, which reflects five metrics including the number of VA health care facilities per number of veterans and recommendability of VA hospitals.

The impression created by the metrics is that veterans receive sub-par health care in Virginia. Whether that is a function of poorly run VA facilities or issues with Virginia’s broader health care system is impossible to deduce from WalletHub’s presentation. But it’s a question worth asking.

— JAB