Category Archives: Demographics

Virginia Is for Psychos

I don’t know how good the social science is, but this is too good to pass up. A study by Ryan H. Murphy, an economics professor at Southern Methodist University, has ranked the 48 contiguous U.S. states by “psychopathy,” or anti-social behavior.

It is disconcerting to see the Old Dominion ranking No. 10 on the list. Are Virginians that whacko? Perhaps so — and I have a theory to explain it. Murphy eliminated Washington, D.C., from the ranking because its standardized score was off the carts — almost twice as high as the highest-ranking state, Connecticut. My theory is that psychopathic behavior in D.C. spills over into the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Please note that Maryland is ranked No. 11, right behind Virginia. I hypothesize that the Old Dominion’s score was diluted by regions of state that are sociologically similar to neighboring North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee, among the least psycho states in the country. If we could isolate Northern Virginia, we would find that it is almost as loco as D.C.

Treading where Murphy dared not go, I have correlated each state’s psychopathology “Z score” with its vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Clearly, there is correlation between psychopathy and voting for Hillary! The R² suggests that 27% of the variability between states can be explained by the relationship between the two variables. Haha!

Hey, don’t look at me. It’s not my data. I’m just plotting the correlation.

OK, OK, I’m peddling junk science. There may be other explanations. Except for the outlier of Wyoming, there appears to be a strong correlation between urban states and the presence of anti-social traits in the population. Urban centers are more transient than small towns and rural areas. People are more anonymous and have weaker social bonds. For entirely distinct reasons, urban areas also lean left politically. The correlation is between psychopathy and urbanism, not psychopathy and liberalism.

If we could show that the psychopaths, not the urban populations where they live, vote for Democrats, we might on to something. Until then, I’m just playfully engaging in the same kind of nonsense as social scientists who purport to show that liberals are smarter, better informed or otherwise more virtuous than conservatives.

What the 2018 Tax Cuts Mean for Virginia

How will the tax cuts from the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act impact Virginia households? The results vary considerably by income bracket, according to a tax calculator published by the Tax Foundation. Higher income households, making over $200,000 per year, will get the biggest income tax breaks as measured in absolute dollars and by percentage of income.

But, despite the hand-wringing over the elimination of the tax deduction for state and local taxes, there is only modest variance among high-income households between high-tax Northern Virginia and other parts of the state.

To illustrate the impact by income category, I selected Congressional District 7, which stands at the geographic center of the state and encompasses a range of higher-income suburban households and lower-income rural households. As seen in the table above, there is very little in the tax package for people making less than $25,000 per year. Of course, given the highly progressive structure of the tax code, people making less than $25,000 per year pay almost no taxes to begin with.

The tax act is fairly generous to working-class and middle-income Virginians but most generous to those making over $200,000 per year. If your No. 1 concern is sticking it to the rich, this bill doesn’t do it. In fact, the Tax Foundation data makes the tax act look like a giveaway to the rich — more or less as its Democratic Party critics described it.

Unfortunately, this static analysis obscures as much as it reveals. By eliminating many deductions employed by the wealthy, tax reform should flush considerable income out of tax shelters into the taxable open. One can predict several things: (1) that taxable income will rise, which (2) will induce hysteria among the social justice warriors obsessed about income inequality without appreciating the difference between gross income and net (taxable) income, and (3) will result in higher tax payments than would be predicted by static analysis. If your No. 1 concern is ensuring that the rich shoulder an increasing share of the income tax burden, then such an outcome is entirely possible under the tax plan — although we won’t know for sure until the data comes in.

Another thing that static analysis overlooks is the impact of the tax cuts on the economy. At a minimum, lower taxes will create more disposable income, some proportion of which will be plowed back into the economy in the form of increased consumer spending. If the money isn’t spent, it will be used either to pay down debt (a good thing) or invested (also a good thing). It seems pretty clear that Democrats’ fears of an economy cataclysm resulting from the tax cuts are not being borne out. In the short run, the cuts clearly are boosting the economy. They’re also boosting deficits, however, which does aggravate the long-term problem of endemic deficit spending and make a Boomergeddon scenario all the more likely.

There is some geographic variability in tax cuts for top-earning households ($200,000 and up), as can be seen in the chart to the left, but it is modest. Fears fanned by critics that high-income earners in high-tax districts might be losers do not appear to be panning out in Virginia. Northern Virginia districts 8, 10, and 11 don’t get tax breaks as big as their high-income earners in other districts, but they do get tax breaks. Big ones. If anyone has a problem, it’s Maryland’s 4th and 5th districts east of the District of Columbia. There, top income earners get tax breaks averaging only $9,000 per household. Is that a big enough difference to induce some to move across the Potomac? We’ll see.

Is the Urban Growth Boom Fading?

Image credit: Brookings Institution

Several years ago Brookings Institution urbanist William H. Frey proclaimed the 2010s as “the decade of the city.” A constellation of forces in the knowledge economy, which puts a premium on dense, mixed-use urban environments with access to mass transit, was pulling Millennials and corporations back into central cities. It was a logic that I subscribed to, although I did raise the warning that there were limits to how much growth cities could absorb, given zoning, regulatory and other growth restrictions that limit the pace of urban redevelopment.

Now, citing new U.S. Census data, Frey has found that big city growth rates have leveled off and suburban growth rates are reviving. He writes:

The new numbers for big cities—those with a population of over a quarter million—are telling. Among these 84 cities, 55 of them either grew at lower rates than the previous year or sustained population losses. This growth fall-off further exacerbates a pattern that was suggested last year. The average population growth of this group from 2016 to 2017 was 0.83 percent—down from well over 1 percent for earlier years of the decade and lower than the average annual growth rate among these cities for the 2000 to 2010 decade.

The Washington metro was an exception to the trend. Population of the “primary city” (which I presume refers to Washington, D.C., although it may include Arlington and Alexandria) grew 1.5% between 2016 and 2017, exceeding the 1.0% rate for the suburbs.

In the Richmond metro, the population of the primary city (presumably the City of Richmond) gained 0.8% over the same period, slightly slower than 1.0% rate for the suburbs.

In the “Virginia Beach” metro, the population of the primary city (I’ve got no idea which localities Frey might be counting) actually declined 0.3% while the “suburbs” grew 0.8%.

Frey does not try to explain why the urban growth spurt has slowed. I stick with my original theory that there is an untapped demand for urbanism but urban areas have limited capacity to absorb new growth. Urban-core localities have little vacant land to develop, and strong NIMBY forces inhibit redevelopment at higher densities. Preservationists want to protect historic buildings. Homeowners fear traffic impact. Property owners want to protect view sheds from tall buildings.

NIMBY forces are at work in outlying jurisdictions, too, but there is a backlog of zoned projects from the 2000s real estate boom, and there are vast areas dedicated to industrial/commercial uses that can be rezoned with only modest impact on adjacent neighborhoods.

Bacon’s bottom line: Core urban jurisdictions can’t grow their populations any faster than they can redevelop — and they can’t redevelop very fast. As urban property values rise, many people have no choice but to locate in suburban localities where land values are cheaper. Perhaps the best opportunities for real estate developers in 2018 are in retrofitting the obsolete economic mono-cultures of shopping centers and office parks into vibrant, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that emulate the urbanity of city centers.

Map of the Day: State/Local Income Tax Collections

Image credit: The Tax Foundation

The latest from the Tax Foundation. Virginia has the highest income tax collections per capita in the Southeast. Could that help explain slower economic growth and reversal in migration patterns?

Map of the Day: Religiosity by State

Map credit: Gallup Organization

Statistically, Virginia ranks among the most religious states in the United States, according to a new Gallup report. But among Bible Belt states, Virginia and Florida are the least religious. The numbers are based upon 130,959 interviews conducted in Gallup’s U.S. Daily survey in 2017.

Here’s the breakdown of how Virginians described their adherence to religion:

Very religious — 38%
Moderately religious — 30%
Not religious — 31%

Map of the Day: Changes in Probability of Death

Map source: Wall Street Journal

It’s not new news anymore that gains in life expectancy have leveled off in the United States, driven by startling and unexpected declines among young and middle-aged whites. The so-called “deaths of despair,” including drug overdoses, are on the rise. So are liver disease (associated with alcoholism) and suicides. Chronic diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are up, too.

The map above shows changes in the probability of death among 20- to 50-year-olds in the 50 states between 1990 and 2016. There is a remarkable divergence — health for this age group has improved significantly for some states, including Virginia, and gotten worse for others.

A breakdown by county in Virginia would be revealing. I hypothesize that western Virginia, especially the far Southwest, would show patterns similar to neighboring West Virginia and Kentucky. Although a more granular look at the data might reveal a different pattern, it appears that Central Appalachia is ground zero for deaths of despair.

Chart of the Day: Household Income Distribution by Region

Our friends over at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia continue to display data in interesting ways. The chart above breaks the state into eight demographic regions and then plots the median household income by locality. As can be seen, there is significant variability within regions — particularly in Northern Virginia and Central Virginia, both of which in this schema include some outlying rural counties. But even the poorest Northern Virginia locality has a higher median income than the richest localities in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

As with all income comparisons, this does not adjust for the considerable differences in the cost of living, particularly housing, so it does not accurately reflect disparities in living standards. If the Demographics Group could adjust for cost of living, we’d really have something interesting to examine.

Why Are Asians and Hispanics So Healthy?

City/county ranking of Virginia health outcomes based on potential years of life lost before age 75. Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has issued its annual Healthy Community report for the United States. As usual, the information is packaged in such a way as to highlight the health disparities between racial/ethnic groups. But the findings for Virginia, which the state-level report largely overlooks, do not fit the dominant institutional-racism narrative. It turns out that Asians are the healthiest racial/ethnic group by far. It also turns out that, despite lower incomes and education levels, Hispanics are healthier than whites. The only finding that conforms to the narrative is the blacks are the least healthy of any group.

The info-graphic to the right shows differences in health outcomes (potential years of life lost before age 75) by place and by race/ethnicity. The “place” metric compares the differences in health outcomes by city or county. There is a wide disparity (as also seen in the map above) between localities with high incomes and high levels of education and localities with low incomes and education. The worst pockets of unhealth are in far Southwest Virginia, Southside, the Eastern Shore, and older cities. No surprises there.

Far more interesting is the disparity between racial/ethnic groups, which many researchers and commentators persist in defining as a gap between whites on the one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other — a gap matching the socio-economic divide and consistent with the paradigm of America as a nation afflicted with institutional racism and discrimination.

Yet of all major racial/ethnic groups, Asians are the healthiest. By far. Here in Virginia, according to the study, Asians experienced the lowest level of “premature deaths,” measured by years lost per 100,000 — only 2,600. Hispanics fared next best, with 3,100 years lost, whites with 6,200, and blacks with 8,700.

Another remarkable finding: Whites reported the highest incidence of poor mental health days: 1.6 for Asians, 2.7 for Hispanics, 3.5 for blacks, and 3.8 for whites.

Results conformed to stereotype for poor or fair health, while self-reported “poor health days” showed almost no difference between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Asians reported the fewest poor health days.

The comparative good health of Hispanics in Virginia is all the more remarkable given that, as the report documents but takes little note of, Hispanics have lower high school graduation rates, have less health insurance, and have a higher rate of teen births than any other group.

Asians and Hispanics do not fit the dominant narrative of the relationship between race and health in the United States. It strikes me that these anomalies are worth exploring. Persuading public health researchers to dig deeper may be a hard thing to do, however. The received wisdom, once established, is a hard thing to dislodge.

Update: And then there’s this headline from the Roanoke Times: “Report finds death rates rise for white, middle-class Virginians.”

Chesterfield County Leaking Affluent Households

Which better represents the future of Chesterfield County? Rudd’s Trailer Park……. (Photo credit: Richmond Magazine

This column was published originally in the Chesterfield Observer. While the details of migration trends in and out of Chesterfield is unlikely to prove of great interest to anyone outside of Chesterfield, the analysis shows how citizens can use IRS migration data to gauge the health of their home locality. 

Hobbled by the sequestration-driven budget squeeze of defense spending, Virginia experienced its fourth consecutive year in 2016 of out-migration, the University of Virginia’s Demographic Research group reported late last year. While 301,000 income tax-filing households moved into the state, 315,800 moved out, for a net loss of 14,800 households. The last four years are quite a comedown for a state that previously had seen healthy population inflows every year since the Internal Revenue Service began compiling the statistics in 1978.

The picture looks somewhat better for Chesterfield County, which saw a net gain of 687 households from people moving in and out of the county in 2016. Some 10,300 households entered the county while 9,600 left and another 123,400 stayed put.

….or this McMansion?

People move from one locale to another for a multitude of reasons, but it’s normally a good sign when more people move in than out. Insofar as people follow jobs when they move, a net gain in migrants could mean that more jobs are being created. An inflow of residents also pumps up demand for housing, retail and services, thus stimulating local economic activity.

On the flip side, an influx of households places greater burden on the county to provide education, public safety, streets and roads, and other basic government services. In an ideal world, the newcomers bring in more taxable income and spending power to help pay for those services than those who leave. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happened in Chesterfield. Households that moved here in 2016 reported an average income of $56,200; those that left reported $58,500 – for a total net loss of $17 million in countywide income. Admittedly, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $10.1 billion in total income reported by all non-migrants. But if this becomes a trend and persists for years and decades, it could fundamentally change the nature of the county.

A large percentage of the coming and going consists of people moving to and from neighboring jurisdictions in the Richmond metropolitan area. In 2016, Chesterfield experienced a net gain of 401 residents from Henrico County, 229 from the City of Richmond, and 56 from the city of Petersburg. However, the county lost a net of 126 households to Powhatan County.

The good news for Chesterfield is that it is importing more affluent households from Richmond, Henrico and Petersburg than it is exporting.

Newcomers from Richmond earned on average $46,100, while those moving from Chesterfield to the city reported only $39,500 in income.

Similarly, Henrico immigrants to Chesterfield earned $60,200 on average while households going the other way earned only $49,900.

The differential for Petersburg was $37,200 on average for households heading from the city to the county compared to a lowly $29,800 for households heading in the reverse direction.

However, Chesterfield lost significant income to Powhatan County in 2016. While the number of migrants is relatively small, the income differential is vast. Households moving from Powhatan to Chesterfield made $48,900 on average while those leaving Chesterfield earned $87,200, a differential of $37,300.

The largest sources of in-migrants from outside the region are Fairfax County, Virginia Beach, and Wake County, North Carolina (in the Raleigh metropolitan area).

The wrong conclusion to draw from this data is that Chesterfield taxpayers might benefit from crafting policies and ordinances that make the county less attractive to the poor, say, by blocking real estate projects developed for lower-income households. Aside from the ethical issues raised by discriminating against the poor, that’s not even good policy. Poor people will gravitate toward the cheapest, least desirable housing stock available in the metro area, whether it’s public housing projects in Richmond or aging cul-de-sac neighborhoods of small, rundown 1950s and ’60s era ranch houses in Chesterfield, regardless of any policies the county pursues.

A better strategy is to make carefully considered investments that help build a more prosperous, livable and sustainable community for all. Tracking the IRS migration data is a good way to tell how well county leaders are doing to create a desirable place for everyone to live, work and play.

Another Look at Virginia’s Lagging Population Growth

Image credit: StatChat blog

After decades as one of the nation’s fast-growth states, Virginia’s population now is growing line with national averages, according to data found in Hamilton Lombard’s latest post on the University of Virginia Demographics Research Group’s StatChat blog.

Lombard attributes the lagging population growth to out-migration resulting from the impact of federal budget austerity on Northern Virginia’s defense-oriented technology sector. Despite this slowdown, NoVa is adding to the state’s population faster than any other region in Virginia because its population skews younger — more women are in the child-bearing age. Indeed, since 2010, NoVa has added more people than the rest of the state combined.

The Richmond region has added the second largest number of people since 2000. And despite its lagging economy, Hampton Roads has contributed substantially to population growth. However, due to emigration of young people, an aging population, and fewer births, population growth in Virginia outside the urban crescent has collapsed since 2010.

Writes Lombard: “Without a surge in population growth, by 2020 Virginia could have close to 200,000 fewer residents than would have been expected based on past population growth trends. Meanwhile, Virginia’s aging population will likely cause the number of counties with more deaths than births to continue to increase, slowing population growth throughout the Commonwealth, even in Northern Virginia.”