"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.
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
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.
(August '01) For all the talk of the spectacular diversity in the hundreds of
citizen-candidates this year, the truth is that there will be little change
in the complexion of city government. White New Yorkers will dominate the
"new" City Council, just as they dominated the old.
In the current City Council, 28 members are white. The results of this
year's elections will show one or two Asians replacing white incumbents --
the first Asian-Americans to win city-wide elective office. A Latino may
replace an African-American. But, when all the levers are pulled, the City
Council will still probably have about 26 white members, or more than 50
How can this be so in a city that is now only 35 percent white?
If represented in proportion to their numbers in the population, there
would be 18 council members who are white (there are 28), 14 who are Latino
(there are currently nine), 13 who are African-American (there are currently
14), and five who are Asian (there are currently none).
Of course, Council members run in specific districts, not in the city as a
whole. But looking at the majority ethnic groups district by district, there
would be even fewer Council members who are white, if voters chose
exclusively by the race of the candidate. (African Americans would have 11
seats, Latinos 11, Asians none).
In the 12 districts where no single group has a majority, two districts have
over 40 percent Asian, six have over 40 percent white, and two other
districts have white residents slightly outnumbering Latinos.
In two districts where Latinos outnumber whites,
District 7 in Manhattan and
District 26 in
Queens, a white could win anyway.
How can white candidates get elected while being in the minority? The simple
Because whites pull others into a coalition. At
the same time, the groups of color do not necessarily coalesce. Ferrer
based his mayoral campaign on an alliance of African Americans and Latinos.
This has yet to pay off.
Two districts in Queens, expected to result in change are instructive. In
District 20 John
Liu, the front-runner, lost to Julia Harrison last time.
She is the Council member from Flushing famous for saying about Asians:
"They have come here to colonize us." She is term limited. Liu reached out
to many of the white residents of the district. He received the endorsement
Queens organization, as well as many unions. He has raised the most money
of any council candidate in the city, who is receiving matching funds. To
try to win he has gone well beyond his own Asian groups.
In District 21,
which is 67 percent Latino, Hiram Monseratte appears to be
the front- runner. If successful, he will replace Helen Marshall, an
African American, who is term limited and running for Borough President.
Some of Monseratte's opponents say that since he is a Puerto Rican, he
cannot adequately represent the district that has a large numbers of Latino
immigrants. Monseratte, like Liu, has been focusing his appeal on district
issues. He has garnered union and other support, and his coalition goes
beyond being Latino or Puerto Rican.
Demography may not be political destiny, but it certainly helps shape it.
In districts with large majorities of specific groups, those members usually
win. Where there are significant numbers of several groups, the ability to
form coalitions beyond race and ethnicity becomes important. This gives
whites advantages beyond their numbers. Whites are often part of the
existing power structure. It is easier for them to bring in members of new
groups, than it is for members of the new groups to align with one another
and oust the whites. The new City Council may look much like the old. Yet,
the coalitions upon which it will be based include many of the newest New
Yorkers. It will be up to the new council to serve their needs.
Five Sites For Beginners:
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.