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Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Demographics
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

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
See past monthly updates for Demographics.

by Andrew Beveridge

The Boom 1990's?

It such an accepted fact that the 1990's were a boom time in New York City that some New Yorkers are looking back at the decade with something close to wistfulness. But emerging data suggests that the truth is more complicated -- that the income for the middle class actually dropped in the metropolitan region.

At first glance, the boom seems indisputable. Between 1990 and 1999, personal income in New York City grew from 182 to 278 billion dollars; the average income per capita in New York City went from about $24,895 to $37,453. Even taking into account inflation the growth is still a very healthy 20 percent.

But both the Census Supplementary Survey and estimates based upon the Census's Current Population Survey provide grim news for New York. The Current Population Survey's estimates reported that the median income dropped in all five boroughs between 1989 to 1998. The estimated decline ranged from about $8,500 in Queens to about $3,100 in the Bronx.

How are both sets of figures possible, one showing greater affluence, the other a decline in income?

Looking at each of the five boroughs, the following stark fact becomes plain: The growth was in Manhattan, where the average income grew from about $61,000 to $82,000. boroughs. But the Census 2000 Supplementary Study suggests a decline in the other boroughs. Unfortunately, the survey did not question enough respondents so that reliable quantitative estimates can be made. But we will soon know what it suggests is true.

To understand how much total income there is one only need consult aggregate statistics. Such statistics show very healthy income growth in New York City. To figure out who earned the income requires data based upon surveys. Such data is much harder to come by. The census only occurs once every 10 years. It provides detailed income data by small geographic area. Other Census Surveys, the Current Population Survey, the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, the American Housing Survey do provide income data, but not for small areas. Because sample sizes in such surveys are small, the level of geographic detail is not great.

We now await the Census 2000 income data. Given the scattered results from other data, it seems very likely that the much heralded boom of the 1990s mostly helped the rich and very rich who live in Manhattan and other places with high concentrations of the affluent. The mythical "person or household in the middle" who receives the median income undoubtedly lost ground. If the poor made any gains, they were dwarfed by the gain of those at the top. In the same way that many companies have been restating their earnings in the wake of Enron, when Census 2000 finally releases the economic data for persons and households we may find that we must "restate the 1990s."

  • 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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