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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


For all its reputation for diversity and tolerance, New York City remains among the most segregated areas of the United States. The pattern of segregation was set in the city as far back as 1910, when one can already see the beginning of black settlement in Harlem, Southeast Queens andBedford-Stuyvesant. By 2000, these areas had become the centers of black population.

The separation of the races is of course not legally enforced in the city and, unlike the South, it never was. Indeed, New York officially welcomed many new black residents during the ŮGreat MigrationÓ from the South. In 1910, there were about 91,000 African-Americans in New York City, or about two percent of the population of the city. By 2000, the figure had risen to 2.1 million, or about 27 percent.

But the metropolitan region of which New York City is a part is now the fourth most segregated in the United States, edging out Chicago. There are few signs that this will ever change.

Measures of segregation were developed in the 1940's and 1950's to understand the concentration of blacks in the "slums and ghettos" of major cities including New York City. At first, segregation only concerned blacks and whites. The most popular measure of segregation for demographers (the Dissimilarity Index or D)is simply the proportion of either group (black or white) that must move to make the proportion of each group identical in every census tract. (There are about 4,000 people in every census tract. In the year 2000, the United States Bureau of the Census divided New York City into 2,217 tracts). If no one must move, there is perfect integration and the index value is 0.00. If all members of one group must move then the index value is 1.00, and the groups are completely segregated, with all the blacks in one set of tracts, and all the whites in another.

Today, the D index of black-white segregation in New York City is 0.75. In 1910, it was 0.64. In other words, the city is more segregated now than it was in 1910. Since 1930, though the black population has grown steadily, the D index has remained more or less the same -- at least 0.75 in every decade, and for two decades exceeding 0.80.

Some express surprise that with such a massive increase in the black population there seems to be so little change in the pattern of black-white segregation. Many whites notice that blacks now live in their neighborhoods. Yet there are census tracts in Middle Village in Queens and in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn where not a single black person resides.

Some things have changed. Demographers have developed two other measures of segregation, what we call exposure and isolation. If all the tracts in New York City were like the handful with no black people, the exposure measure would be 0.00 for whites,and the isolation measure would be 1.00.

In 1910 (see graphic), the exposure index for whites to blacks was about 0.02, while for blacks to whites it was about 0.82. In other words, for the average black person, about 82 percent of the residents in his or her census tract were white, while for the average white person only about two percent of the residents of his or her tract were black. The white isolation index was 0.98, while the black isolation index was 0.82. Blacks were much less isolated and more exposed to whites than whites were to blacks.

By 2000 (see graphic), white isolation and black isolation were just about the same, at 0.66 and 0.62 respectively. The exposure level of whites to blacks had grown to 0.10, while that of blacks to whites had dropped to 0.17. By 2000, whites had a few more blacks in their neighborhood, while blacks had many fewer whites in theirs.

During the 20th century, New York City developed a very deep-seated pattern of segregation of blacks from whites and whites from blacks. It continues into the 21st century.

Related graphics:

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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