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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

A White City Council

(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 percent.

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 is answer: 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 of the 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:

  • 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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