Demographics
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The Topic
"Demography" is the study of human populations, using statistics to describe conditions of life. Demographers consider a range of information about the size and density of populations, the ages of their members, and how populations change. Births, deaths, disease, marriages, divorces, immigration, economic standing, occupation, race, ethnic and country of origin all are subjects for the demographer.
The Context
New York City is unique and fascinating demographically. Recently, it has had large numbers of foreign immigrants arriving, many long-standing residents leaving, an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, and a rise in the black middle class. It is a city of unique ethnic and racial diversity; it has a large older population. It was the home of many immigrants during the turn of the 20th Century. It was a destination for many African Americans from the Southern United States. Many residents of the City's suburbs fled New York City starting after World War II. In some areas of the city there is rapid growth fueled by immigrants and their children. Some areas are undergoing racial and ethnic transition; others are gentrifying. These trends are important for understanding the Ccty and its evolution.
The Reporter
Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981. Since 1993 he has done demographic analyses and consulted for the New York Times. He has provided expert testimony in districting and redistricting, housing discrimination, and numerous other civil rights cases in the metropolitan area and elsewhere. The opinions expressed in Topics are his alone.
The Archives
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by Andrew Beveridge

False Facts About Census 2000

(April '01) There were three things that New Yorkers learned about themselves from the first data to come out of the 2000 Census:

  1. New York City, now eight million, grew rapidly during the 1990s.
  2. New York City is now the center of the region's growth
  3. Five percent of all New York City residents claimed to be multi-racial.

None of these are accurate.

1. NEW YORK CITY'S SLOW GROWTH

New York City experienced modest growth. New Yorkers were simply counted better in 2000 than they had been in 1990. The 1990 Census officially recorded New York City's population at 7.3 million; now it is 8.0 million. The difference is 686,000 or 9.4 percent. Growth is only one reason for the higher numbers, and it may not be the most important. Everyone acknowledges that the last census undercounted the city. Officially, the adjustment would have been about 245,000. This time the adjustment would be somewhat lower. However, the adjustment procedure assumes that all households are on the census address list.

A massive effort by the Department of City Planning, under the direction of Joseph Salvo, head of the population division and the city's census liaison, reviewed the census list of households and added about 370,000 household addresses to that list. Some were new construction, but many were auxiliary apartments or other sub-divisions of existing buildings. Many had not been visited in 1990, though they probably existed then. This is the first census where Congress allowed such a review. Indeed, in earlier censuses the bureau strongly resisted similar efforts and blocked them by court challenges for reasons of "confidentiality." If each newly found unit had two people in it (much lower than New York City's average) those extra 740,000 people would more than account for NYC's "growth."

No one will know how many housing units there are in New York City until the census releases figures later this year. However, City Planning Commissioner Joe Rose attributes half of New York City's growth to better counting. NYC probably grew at a more leisurely 4 or 5 percent, putting it in the same league with Chicago and behind Los Angeles.

Still, New York certainly did grow somewhat, thanks to immigration. This contrasts with many other cities in the region: Newark, Buffalo, Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven all lost population.

2. MOST REGIONAL GROWTH IS SUBURBAN SPRAWL

The fastest growth in the New York region is in the far suburbs, such as Putnam County in New York, central New Jersey, and some distant parts of Connecticut. Sprawl and "white flight" are alive and well. The most rapid growth in the New York region occurred in the outer ring of suburbs. While the Census counted 9.4 percent (and, again, many of these were just people who were not counted 10 years ago), Putnam County grew 13.1 percent, Orange County 10.2 percent; Dutchess, Greene, and Saratoga (now an Albany County suburb) all grew rapidly.

Unlike the New York City, none of these increases is based upon suddenly counting massive numbers of uncounted households. Indeed, 10 out of New Jersey's 21 counties grew at least 9.0 percent, and Somerset County grew over 23 percent. About one-third of Connecticut's roughly 175 towns grew faster than nine percent. Sherman, a town in Fairfield led the pack with 36 percent. Most such growth points in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey were quite a distance from New York City and far from local population centers such as Newark and New Haven.

3. TWO THIRDS OF THE NEW YORKERS WHO SAID THEY WERE MEMBERS OF MORE THAN ONE RACE MAY HAVE BEEN CONFUSED

Only a tiny number of New Yorkers made a valid report that they were two or more races. Almost all New Yorkers report that they are only one race. Many that reported more than one race probably did so in error. In New York City, about 393,000 people (slightly less than five percent) told the census that they were of more than race. But 71 percent of these listed that second race as "other race," which they were not supposed to do. Only about 115,000 people filled in two actual races, or about 1.4 percent of the population. This number reflects what the officials at the census had originally estimated.

These well known myths should make it plain that drawing conclusions from Census 2000 is not as easy as it seems. As Disraeli reportedly said: "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." Census 2000 certainly will continue to produce masses of statistics. The issue is how to sort the lies from the damn lies from the statistics.


Five Sites For Beginners:

  • US Census Bureau - Hands-down candidate for the richest source of post-1990 population data for NYC. Here you will find annual updates detailing age and sex, race and Hispanic origin, as well as births, deaths, net domestic migration and net international migration. Excellent special feature: county-by-county estimates of the below poverty level population. Indispensable and superb.
  • American FactFinder - Also courtesy of the US Census Bureau. Features data on population and housing, industry and business as well as a searchable database on any other demographic information you could possibly want. Available by state, metro or urbanized area. Maps too!
  • US/NYS Departments of Labor - Another exemplary source is the Local Area Unemployment Statistics unit of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each month the Bureau, in a joint undertaking with the State, provides county by county estimates of the employment status of the working age population.
  • U.S. Commerce Department - A comprehensive handle on where and how New Yorkers earn their livings. Also features information on Big Apple employers, salaries, industries and their revenues. Especially recommended is a database maintained as part of Commerce's Regional Accounts.
  • New York Metropolitan Transportation Council - One of the more ambitious on-line undertakings in making regional and city statistical data. Contains data on population, employment and income, to name a few. Not always easy to use, but well worth the effort.


Other Recommendations:

  • New York City Department of Health -- Though the website of New York City's Department of Health is utterly confusing, their annual publication, "Summary of Vital Statistics for New York" is indispensable for would be students of population dynamics. And it's free. Call the Press Office at 212-788-5290 and ask for the Office of Vital Statistics and Epidemeology. Persevere.
  • New York City Department of City Planning - One would think that the DCP would have put its population data base on-line in a user-friendly way. But no. Go figure. It's still worth looking at their website to see the lineup of potential sources and types of population and economic information.
  • New York City's Housing and Vacancy Survey - Every three years or so the US Census Bureau provides New York City with a census-type survey of the city's households. Mandated by the rent regulation law, it contains much that is of interest to those concerned with social and economic change at the borough and neighborhood level. A compact disc containing the microdata files for the 1991, 1993 and 1996 surveys can be purchased from the Census Bureau. The survey for 1999 will be available for analysts by 2000, scooping the decennial Census.

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