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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: Welfare Reform's Aftermath

(mar '00) The Story So Far

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was reluctantly signed into law by President Clinton. PRWORA, welfare reform’s rightful name, was overwhelmingly endorsed by a conservative Republican congressional majority. These would-be reformers legislated the demise of the federally-financed entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), enacted in the Great Depression. Given that era's social mores, its original target group, women with children and without husbands, was viewed as being modest in scale.

However by the 1960s this was no longer the case, and the program's numbers began to mount. To further complicate matters, AFDC was fast becoming identified as a minority program that promoted family dissolution. While pundits speculated endlessly about "root " causes of poverty, taxpayers had long concluded that little good would come of AFDC, save for the much-derided culture of dependency. (Also in welfare reformers sights was the much smaller General Assistance program, received largely by single adults, down on their luck. But as a state-financed effort, GA was not within TANF’s reach.)

With PROWRA's passage, AFDC was out, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) was in. To ease the transition, the feds, through TANF, provided the states with a sum of discretionary money to be used on behalf of their welfare populations over a five year period. Few parts of the country had bleaker predictions about the success of TANF than New York. Democratic pols, left-liberal academics and think tankers – amply represented locally – saw it as a racist-inspired Great Betrayal.

Tales From the City

Between 1996 and 1999, the number of New Yorkers who received TANF and General Assistance declined by 35%, from 1.1 million to 656,000. As a share of the City's population, they fell from 15% to 9% of the total. This declining trend also occurred in each of the boroughs and, more remarkably, in each of the City's 59 community districts. Within the overall public assistance population, the ranks of General Assistance recipients fell at a much faster rate – 54% – than did those TANF, down 29%.

But the decline of the late nineties was not the case throughout the decade; the 1990s saw the City's welfare population literally go up the mountain and then down again. Between 1990 and 1994, public assistance recipients increased by 34% and by the end of that period accounted for one out of six of all New Yorkers. Though this occurred during the Dinkins mayoralty it was hardly due to a policy of padding the welfare rolls. Rather it reflected the local economy's dire straits. A comparable upsurge in welfare took place nationally in the early 1990's, reflecting the halting recovery from the 1990-91 recession. The first two pre-Welfare Reform years of the Giuliani mayoralty coincided with a modest revival in the City's economy and the beginnings of a welfare population rollback. As the local economy picked up speed over the next (post-Welfare Reform) three years, the drop in the rolls intensified.

Taking Stock

What has happened to those who have dropped from the welfare rolls? No one really knows for sure. A considerable number have been picked up by SSI, a federally financed entitlement program which has a growing contingent of non-elderly disabled children and adults. But the safe bet is that most are in paid employment. Are they better off than before? This question is still unanswerable, though there seems to be little evidence of dramatic deterioration. One telltale indicator supporting this position is the post-1996 trend in food stamp usage. Still a federally funded entitlement program, food stamp recipients fell by 28% between 1996 and 1999. Hard times for former welfare recipients would be mean more, not fewer, recipients.

The Mayor and Governor Pataki were supporters of "ending welfare as we know it" from the get-go. But it is impossible to say how much of the ensuing reduction in the public assistance population on their watch is due to their tough-love positions, and how much is simply the result of the strong economy for which they bear little responsibility. And while great progress may have been made in changing the culture of dependency, it is nevertheless all too true that a considerable number of the poor are still with us. As 2000 began, over a million New Yorkers were on some form of public assistance (including SSI recipients), and more than a half a million of the working poor are dependent on Medicaid for health care.

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.

Also by Emanuel Tobier:


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