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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: NYC's Latest Figures

The Census Bureau's latest estimates place New York City's April 1998 population at a bit over 7.4 million, essentially unchanged from its year earlier level and 1.4% above its beginning-of-decade mark. While this may seem a picayune rate of growth in comparison with those experienced by cities in the nation's fast growing southern and western regions, it represents a remarkable comeback for an already very intensively developed city in this part of the country. Between 1980 and 1998, NYC has recaptured over two-fifths of the population it had lost in its economically ruinous 1970s. For this good fortune it has two factors to thank. First is the spectacularly renewed dynamism of its largely Manhattan-based work and play spaces and places. The second is the magnetic pull that the City's thriving global economy sector and its support system exerts on so many of the world's would-be immigrants.

As the immigrant presence has escalated over the last few decades, so has the character and look of the City's population been altered along with it. In New York City's case, unlike that of other world cities, diversity is a matter of the masses and not just of the elite. For the1990-1998 period, the City's Latino population, ever more diverse by country of origin, rose 15% from 1.8 million to 2.1 million accounting at the ending of that period for 28% of the City's total population. Interestingly, during the 1990s the size of the city's Latino population -- in Census terms, a racially inclusive category -- forged significantly ahead of that of its black nonlatino group. Asians represent the City's fastest growing racial category by far, rising by 35% between 1990 and 1998. At 720,000 they account for one out of ten New Yorkers. The City's black (nonhispanic) population has remained virtually unchanged in the 1990s, seemingly marking the end of what has been a very long period of uninterrupted growth. Population-wise, the group that has lost the most ground in the present decade, extending a long established trend, are nonhispanic whites, down by 12% in absolute terms and falling as a share of the total from 43% to 38% between 1990 and 1998. Among both blacks and whites, native born adults and the number of children of native born parents continues to decline while the number of foreign born whites and blacks and their (largely) U.S. born offspring have risen substantially.

Another striking and consequential demographic turn in this decade has seen the resumption of growth in the City's school-age population. Between 1970 and 1990, the number of five to seventeen-year-olds living in the City plunged by 30%. That's why all those school buildings were shut and, in many cases, torn down. But in the 1990s, thanks to immigration, this sharp and protracted decline turned into a modest rebound; between 1990 and 1998 the number of the City's 5-17 year olds rose by 10%. However this boomlet has just about run its course, as foreshadowed by the sharp fall births to parents living in New York have since the early 1990s. That doesn't mean that all the kicking and screaming about school overcrowding and the like is without merit. For the many newcomers to the City over the last few decades have been flocking to those neighborhoods whose school building stock was most depleted during the 1970-1990 period.

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:

The clock is ticking on the real life drama set in motion by the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. By 2001, strict term limits are to be imposed on the remaining recipients of public assistance. While the City's welfare rolls have indeed plummeted -- a joint function of policy and a very strong local economy -- the specter of what might well be a substantial core of adults, many with children, who are simply unemployable is impossible to wish away. In any case, data indicating what progress is being made in moving this ill-favored group to the ranks of the employed is needed. This is, of course, no easy matter. But from an informational standpoint, it is difficult at this time to tease out the barest facts of what is going on in the controversial world of welfare reform. Evaluations, as they are somewhat generously called, are thick on the ground. For the most part they are carried out by groups heavily invested in opposing or espousing welfare reform's timetable and assumptions. But they add more heat than light to clarifying the issue of exactly has happened. Some plain English narrative would do a world of good at this point. The United Way of New York City used to provide such a narrative. Until 1997, it had been preparing for the City's Human Resources Administration a straight arrow, nonpolitical statistical compendium describing the historical trends in the City's low income population and in their utilization of social services. This effort has been discontinued for reasons which are not altogether clear, but is probably related to the Giuliani administration's penchant for limiting access to information which it believes could be used against it by its critics. That's not only a pity, but short sighted: This data base could provide a useful context against which to judge the consequences of welfare reform. It should be reinstated posthaste.

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