Demographics
Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Demographics

by Emanuel Tobier, New York University

The Topic: Demography is "the study of statistics of births, deaths, disease, etc., as illustrating conditions of life in communities." Its subject matter is how and why the populations of particular places change over time, at least insofar as those changes can be quantified with some reasonable degree of precision. Near-synonyms: Population; Immigration; Socio-Economic Data.

The Context: New York City's population has remained largely unchanged over the past half century while the US population has doubled. Since 1970, New York City's American-born adult population has declined sharply, and is being replaced on a virtually one-for-one basis by immigrants and their children. In 1990, 28% of the city's population was foreign born. By the year 2000, the comparable figure will likely be closer to 45%.

The Reporter: Emanuel Tobier is a Senior Researcher at the Taub Center for Urban Research, and a Professor of Economics and Planning at New York University's Robert Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. A native of the Bronx, he is a long-time student of and frequent commentator on the New York scene. His essay, "The Bronx in the Twentieth Century: Dynamics of Population and Economic Change," appeared in the Fall 1998 Centennial issue of the Bronx County Historical Society Journal.

The Archives: See past monthly updates for Demographics.


Emanuel's Favorite 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.


In The News:

The Kosovo conflict generated a flood of refugees, a significant fraction of whom ended up in the Bronx. Most are ethnic Albanians, drawn particularly to the Belmont section. Over the past twenty years, in increasing numbers, Albanian immigrants have been settling in this still largely Italian-American community (once the eponymous home of the doo-wop group Dion and the Belmonts). Albanians have become influential figures in the management of multi-family residential properties. Their hard won success in these ventures has been a major, if unsung, contributor to the Bronx's modest housing comeback in the past decade.


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.


Emanuel Sounds Off:

There has never been a better time, as far as the availability of up-to-date social and economic data is concerned, for keeping tabs on how the city's population is changing on a year-by-year and neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Yet the current state of analysis of this kind of basic policy-relevant information is asymmetrically pathetic. For a variety of reasons, some creditable (budget cutbacks), some less so (fear of political controversy), public agencies at the state and local level have virtually given up the ghost re demographic analysis. This abdication has left the field to the tender mercies of single-interest and advocacy organizations from which it would be unwise to expect much in the way of clarity or intellectual honesty. Urban research centers at the City's universities basically have been constrained to do project and not general purpose research, because that's where the money is. At the local level, present circumstances and technology provide a genuine opportunity to match data with insight. We're neglecting that opportunity.

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