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.
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by Andrew Beveridge

GOP Senate Majority Repeals Census 2000

A cynic -- or maybe just a careful observer of politics -- might see the last half century of New York's history as one long and varied effort to make sure that the city has not gotten the political clout that it deserves. Starting in the 1950's, (and probably even before) the census routinely undercounted the population of New York. Finally, the 2000 census seems to have counted more accurately. Now, the New York State Senate is in effect repealing the results of the latest census.

The senators are doing this through their plan for redistricting. Though supposedly carried out with public input, incumbents and their staffs actually do the redistricting in old-fashioned backroom deals. The redistricting process, which is required to reflect the shifts in population within the state every ten years, is often compared to making sausage -- meaning, most people would rather not learn all the disgusting stuff that it is made of.

The 2000 census showed a marked increased in population downstate, and a decrease upstate. For almost a year afterward, all official redistricting plans kept the senate at a total of 61 seats, its current number. The problem,from the GOP majority's point of view, was that these plans put the senate at risk of switching over to a Democratic majority. One of the seats would have had to be moved from Republican-responsive upstate to Democrat-happy New York City, and one or two seats in Long Island would have had to change their borders to include someportion of the city.

So, the new plan put forward -- officially by the bi-partisan New York Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, commonly known as LATFOR, but actually by the staffs of the senate and assembly majority party -- increasedthe senate's size to 62 seats. The new seat was created in New York City. This sounds fair, but, in fact, it represents a very cunning way to dilute New York City's power in the new Senate, and maintain GOP control.

Adding an extra seat meant that virtually all seats upstate and in Long Island remained about as they were in 1992 -- maintaining them, in other words, as Republican strongholds. This also made a few other dirty tricks possible, including destroying the secure senate district of Eric Schneiderman, making him face a primary by an Hispanic candidate in a now more heavily Hispanic district, and putting Noach Dear in a predominantly African-American district.

More egregiously, every single upstate district now has fewer than the average number of people in a district, which is called under populated, while every downstate district is now over populated. For Congressional redistricting, no such deviations are allowed; the plan must reflect the principle of one person, one vote. In other situations, courts generally accept a total deviation of 10 percent from the "ideal" population. The New York State Senate plan has a total deviation of 9.78 percent. Remember, these deviations are not random -- all the districts that have too few people are upstate, while all those that have too many are downstate. The spokesperson for Senator Dean Skelos, the head of the senate's redistricting task force, has defended the population deviations by telling the New York Times: "It's legal, what more do you want?" But this obvious dilution of New York City's political power may not be legal at all, in fact. A pending federal court case will decide this.

Aside from repealing the Census, the GOP majority did some very creative districting in Nassau and Suffolk County and in Westchester and the Bronx. In Nassau and Suffolk, the plan split the black and Hispanic areas into several districts, so that they would not influence the outcome of any election. If they had not done this, minorities would have had a reasonable chance ofelecting a candidate of their choice, but this could also have meant that some of Long Island's current nine GOP Senators would have been re-elected. In the Bronx and Westchester, the plan redrew Senator Velella's district, extending it further into Westchester, and reshaping it as a kind of warped donut (though it was givena more imaginative description in a previous article on redistricting in Gotham Gazette). This was done to corral all the available whites into his district. The hole in Vallela's donut is an African-American area in Mount Vernon and the Bronx attached by a corridor to another African-American area in the Bronx. Both of the standard ways of diluting minority voting strength,which I outlined in a previous column, are on display here -- "cracking" (splitting minorities across several districts) and "packing" (piling them into a just a few districts).

The 2000 census results seemed to mean that New York City would gain influence in the State Senate. Due to careful line drawing, the elusive power seems once again to have slipped away. New York City might well have to wait until the next census to receive its due from New York State politicians. And, if history is a guide, one can predict that every effort will be made to assure that this does not happen.


  • US Census Bureau -- The Census Web site is the premier site for data from the 2000 and earlier censuses, and from a variety of other sources. The site is very well indexed and has a very good search engine. You can order data, download data, make maps, download tables and publications, view publications, etc. As with any source it may have both more and less than you want for any specific use.
  • American FactFinder -- The American Fact Finder is meant to be the Census Bureau's main access point to data from the Censuses, the American Community Survey and a variety of other sources. Some criticize it for being hard to use for comparisons from one area to another. For a quick number or two it works like a charm.
  • 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 online 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 -- The Department of City Planning has begun to update the data based upon Census 2000. Following the links and you can find discussion of changing New York City and some PDF maps.
  • 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 1999 survey tables and data re available for download.

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