"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.
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%.
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
The United States Census Bureau has been capably and professionally
carrying out its assignment to survey the population 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. 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.
Averse to answer the Census 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 of 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 an article in the New
York Times, 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.
Five Sites For Beginners:
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.