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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

The Arab Americans In Our Midst

(Sept '01) Osama Bin Laden, the man whom many believe is behind the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, is from Saudi Arabia. Many of the 19 hijackers who participated hailed from Arab countries. There also have been reports of celebrations in some Arab and Moslem quarters, not just on the West Bank but also in Arab sections of the United States.

All of this has prompted an outburst of incidents against Arabs, Muslims, Middle Easterners and even South Asians in the United States, some of them in New York. The president of the Moslem Students Association at Queens College (where I teach) was targeted for attack and bursts into tears in class when discussing the bombing.

Both Mayor Rudy Giuliani and President George Bush have been scrupulous in asking the American public to avoid scapegoating innocent Arab and Muslim Americans. But there is some evidence that their calls are not working. In one poll, 34 percent of teenagers say they view Arab-Americans as potential terrorists.

What do we really know about the Arab-American community? Arab Americans seem to be following the pattern of other very successful immigrant groups to the United States. They are balancing their attachment to their new home country with their attachment to the Arab world. As with many immigrant groups some are torn between traditional and customary roles and the opportunities available in the United States. In short, they are becoming American.

According to the Census Supplementary Survey, about 1.2 million residents of the United States say they are of Arab ancestry, up from 870,000 in 1990, an increase of about 40 percent. The largest number of these are Lebanese, at 419,000, with a further breakdown as follows: Egyptian (124,000), Iraqi (41,000), Jordanian (65,000), Moroccan (45,000), Palestinian (64,000), Syrian (137,000), Arab/Arabic (262,000), and Other Arab (93,000). It should be noted that, as with any ethnic groups, the ethnic advocates such as the Arab American Institute and others put the real numbers several times greater than the official numbers.

In 2000, 77,000 Arabs lived in New Jersey and 124,000 in New York State.

Arab Americans seem to be quite successful. A poll done in 1999-2000 found that over one-third of households had incomes in excess of $75,000. Large proportions are employed in managerial and professional jobs. Many are educated.

To get "inside" the Arab American group, Jen'nan Ghazal Read of Rice University carried out a study presented at a recent sociology conference of the attitudes of Arab American women. For Christian and Muslim Arabs alike, Islamic values have shaped many Arab cultural values. The family remains the foundation of the Islamic community, Islamic law (sharia) influences what is considered proper interaction between men and women. Men expect women to be modest, and to content themselves with bearing and rearing the children. Few Arab American women accept these limitations. Many now work outside the home, have married non-Arabs, and support goals of the women's movement. The Arab American women seem to be "Coming to America" in Ghazal Read's words, as they balance their new life in America with their ties to Arab place and culture.

Though a tiny handful of Arab terrorists caused incalculable damage to New York City and the United States, the Arab Americans in our midst are hardworking, largely successful immigrants to the United States, balancing their Arab with their American identity.

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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