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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 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.

by Emanuel Tobier, NYU

In The News: : Census Slackers

(june '00) From now through early July, a veritable army of temporary workers will be reaching out to the households of those New Yorkers the Census Bureau didn't hear from in the mail. Most will be asked to fill out the so-called short form, which asks about the age and gender of members of the household. But a significant percentage will be called upon to negotiate a much more complex instrument: the 38-page long form which inquires about such matters as income (level and sources), marital relationships among adult household members, extent and character of participation in paid employment, educational attainment, needs for assistance in the tasks of daily living, place of birth and citizenship status and much, much more.

All terribly useful information for those who need to understand and respond to the changing nature of America's myriad social and economic structures. And, unquestionably, the Census Bureau has been capably and professionally carrying out this large-scale survey assignment every ten years since 1790. Indeed the requirement for some form of enumeration is set forth in the Constitution. But what began as a simple head count for purposes of defining Congressional Districts has morphed into what many now regard as a formidable invasion of privacy. (Note: only 16% of all households receive the long form.) Resistance on this score has escalated recently because of well-founded concerns about the abuses connected with the misuse of personal information gathered from Internet web-sites. Moreover, undocumented immigrants and the immigrant communities in general are apprehensive, despite specific and profuse assurances to the contrary, about the possible use of Census returns against them. This is because changes in the immigration laws in 1996 gave the INS swinging new powers, which it has used, to deport undocumented immigrants. And these are two categories that New York is well represented in: foreign-born residents and Internet users.

Anyone home?

As of late April, only 53% of New York City's close to three million households have returned their filled out Census forms. This rate of return is not that much different from that of ten years earlier. By borough, it ranges from a high of 60% in Staten Island to a low of 48% in Brooklyn. Nationally, the rate of return is quite a bit higher at around 65%. After two censuses of lower response rates, there has actually been a slight uptick at the national level -- because of a higher rate of return among Latinos. Thus far at least, response rates in New York City have been markedly lower in black neighborhoods than in Latino ones. Across the country though, the blacks' response rate shows no pattern of decline from the decade earlier census. New York seems to be an anomaly. As might be expected the highest responses inside and outside of the city occur in predominantly white middle income areas; 65% in Brooklyn Heights, 72% in Nassau County.

Averse to answer the Census form because of their illegal status, undocumented immigrants' non-responses are greater among Latinos than among blacks. But blacks in New York City, including middle income blacks, seem to have developed a greater degree a mistrust over time. The citywide response rate in black neighborhoods is down by 5% in 2000 to below 40%. And, as far as one can tell from fragmentary evidence, rates are down by more in middle income black neighborhoods than in low income ones. In a May 16th New York Times article, Sarah Kershaw posits that the most probable reason seems to be a general mistrust engendered by the sharp reaction among middle class blacks to several high-profile police brutality cases in the last few years in New York City.

What can the Census Bureau do about the minority undercount? Not much. The Census can and does overcome the language barrier among non-English speaking immigrant groups by printing in other languages. And they do manage to keep the INS at arm's length. But, ultimately, minority groups and undocumented immigrants must participate of their own accord.

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.

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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