Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

You're on an older version of the site, please click here to view the current site

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


(June '01) After each census comes the dance known as redistricting. This time around, New York City and the surrounding suburbs accounted for virtually all the growth in New York State. Much of upstate actually lost population. The result is that, however the new districts are drawn, they will have to benefit New York City, giving the city more representatives in the New York State Senate and New York State Assembly, as well as preserving the city's proportion of the state's dwindling U.S. Congressional delegation. But that doesn't mean the process is going to be pretty. Redistricting, some observers have said, is like sausage; one does not want to watch what goes into making it.

The number of members of the New York State Assembly who represent New York City will increase from 61 to 63, out of a total of 150 seats. The number of members of the New York State Senate must increase from about 25 to about 26 (some State Senators have districts that include only parts of the city), out of a total of 62 seats.

In the United States Congress, it will be more complicated. The total number of members of Congress in New York State must drop from 31 to 29. Much of that loss must come from upstate. But the 14 local members of Congress may see their seat dangerously redrawn for a different reason - the change in ethnic and racial composition.

In the past, Congressional districts were created in very odd shapes in order to carve out a district in which the majority of the population were "minorities." Thanks to recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court, when the 2000 redistricting gets into full swing, strangely shaped districts will be seen as "constitutionally suspect" and may need to be redrawn. These could include Nydia Velazquez's Congressional district, already redrawn for the 1996 election, which includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Lower East Side; Nita Lowey's Congressional district, which swings down from Westchester through the Bronx into parts of Queens; and Elliot Engel's district, which puts together minority populations in several areas of the Bronx with portions of Yonkers, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.

It is true that race or Hispanic status can no longer be the "predominant" or primary factor in redrawing districts, but a recent Supreme Court ruling indicates race can be considered. Voting rights specialists use the terms "packing" and "cracking" when describing the methods to dilute minority-voting power. "Packing" means corralling the minority voters in as few districts as possible, so that, while a minority candidate might be elected, the white incumbents in the nearby districts will not be threatened.

"Cracking" means splitting the minority vote among several districts so that they will be unable to elect a preferred candidate. Recently, "unpacking" of the state legislature occurred in New Jersey, a process upheld by the federal courts so far. African American Democrats in that state originally backed the plan. But the slate proposed by the Democrats in the mixed race districts, once the plan was accepted, is all white. How will all these factors affect such districts as the one represented for decades by Charlie Rangel, for instance, the dean of the Black Congressional Caucus who now finds himself in the second most heavily Hispanic district in New York State at just over 50 percent?

Redistricting is often an exercise in absurdity done behind closed doors. But there are some signs that this time around, it will at least be more out in the open. Governor George Pataki has budgeted three million dollars so that his office may become involved, and the new computer technology means that regular members of the community can at least theoretically learn what is going on, and make their voices heard.

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.

Visit the Topic Archives!

Gotham Gazette the Place for Politics and Policy

Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

$app = JFactory::getApplication(); $menu = $app->getMenu(); $menu_items = $menu->getItems('menutype', 'mainmenu'); var_dump($menu_items); * */ ?>