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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Census story you won't hear

Most Census stories will be about how New York has changed – after all, headlines like "proportion of New Yorkers who are white declines by 1%" or “population of Queens stays the same!” aren't really much of a story. We look for the neighborhoods and demographic indicators that have changed, find the interesting stories, and write about those.

But the real interesting story – and something you won’t read about - is that from a demographic perspective, there is a very good argument that this is the single most stagnant decade in the history of New York City - at least dating back to 1790 when the decennial census was first conducted.

To start with, absolute population increase or decrease is the single greatest driver of change in the urban environment. At its core, a city is a physical structure designed to support human beings in their lives. As such, the number of human beings is 95% of what determines the physical structure of the city. From 2000 – 2010 the population of New York City grew (officially) by 2.1%.

From 1790 until 1930, there was not a single decade that New York did not go without at least a 15% increase in population – and often more like a 50% increase. Think of the change in the city over the eighty years from 1850 – 1930, when the population increased tenfold, and the change over the eighty years from 1930 –2010, a period in which the population has stayed more or less steady at between about 7 and 8 million people. If you took someone from today and put them in the New York City of 1930, they could catch a game at Yankee stadium, and then ride the IRT down to Grand Central Terminal, before walking across the 59th Street Bridge to Queens. If you took someone from the New York City of 1930 and put them in the New York City of 1850, they’d meander through a farm before swimming across the Harlem River, walking a couple hours down a dirt country road and then waiting for a ferry to take them to John Jacob Astor’s country estate.

So the period we’re looking at is the period from 1930 – 2010. Out of these 8 decades, we can dismiss two that also had significant population changes: 1970 – 1980 (population decline of 10.4%) and 1990 – 2000 (population increase of 9.4%). This leaves our rivals for “most stagnant decade” as the periods from 1930 – 1970 and 1980 – 1990.

Now, in addition to overall population, we have to look at where this population was concentrated. Population shifts create areas of growth and decline, which means areas of development and abandonment. Manhattan has changed incredibly since the 1890s even though the overall population is roughly the same as it is now. This is because in the Manhattan of the 1890s almost all of the population and industry was concentrated in the southernmost quarter of the Island. That area has decongested, while the rest of the borough has experienced exponential growth.

In 2010, New York City has almost exactly the same distribution of population as it had in 2000. Each borough retained roughly the same proportion of the overall population - the largest change was Queens, which went from having 27.8% of the population to having 27.3%. The largest population growth was in Staten Island, which grew by 5.6%. In absolute terms, the largest growth was in the Bronx, which grew by about 52,000 people (but is still about 86,000 people short of its peak population in 1970).

Contrast this to the period from 1950 – 1960, a period of only a slight (1.4%) overall population decline, but which had a huge population shift from Manhattan, which declined by 261,000, to Queens, which increased by 258,000 people. Or the period from 1930-1940, period of relatively modest (7.4%) overall growth, but heavy growth in the Bronx and Brooklyn, which each increased by about 10%, and explosive growth in Queens, which saw a 20.2% population increase.

So this leaves us four decades: the 1940s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. We’ll take a closer look at these next post.

Monday, April 4, 2011

3 Census stories to view with a critical eye

In case you haven't heard, the 2010 Census data for NYC has been released, and DCP is letting you satisfy your census jones here . As always, big props to Joe Salvo and the true pros at the DCP Population Division for a super-quick turnaround. Perusing the data, I'm getting a good idea of stories that are going to come out of this. The big one is the undercount of course, which has dominated the initial reaction. Here are three others that are likely to come (or that have come already), how they'll be spun, and what you should know about them that might not be told.

"The black population has declined for the first time since the Civil War."

The spin: This will probably be presented in a gentrification narrative: white people moving into Harlem and parts of Brooklyn, displacing older black residents, or might be presented with a "black people are moving back to the south" angle.

What you need to know. The African-American population - by which I mean black people generally with roots in the Southern States of the US who came to New York during the great migration - has been declining in New York for 30 years. The reason the black population has grown slightly during this time is because of the influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and (to a much lesser extent), African immigrants. The reason for the overall population decline in the black community has a lot to do with the decrease in immigration (and undercount) in the Afro-Caribbean community and the increasing suburbanization of the community.

"The white population of Brooklyn has increased for the first time since WWII."

The spin: Again, this will probably be presented as a gentrification narrative: educated, working-age white people from Manhattan or other areas of the United States moving to Brooklyn.

What you need to know: While this population has certainly increased, most of the increase is due to the Hassidic community. Not only do they have much higher birthrates than average, they also do not follow the normal pattern of leaving for the suburbs. This is easy to see - the greatest increase in the white population is in Borough Park and the Census Tracts around Flushing Avenue, both of which are heavily Hassidic areas. In addition, the growth in the under-18 population (6.8%) is much higher than the growth in the over-18 population (3.9%). That points to less MFAs in Prospect Heights and more Yeshiva students in Williamsburg. Immigration in southern Brooklyn from the former Soviet Union is also a factor, but less this decade than in previous decades.

"The Asian population tops a million for the first time."

The spin: In percentage terms, the Asian population has had by far the largest increase (over 30%) of any race or ethnic group in the last decade. This will probably be presented as a "milestone" with stories about the history of Asians in New York, or Asian cultural influence in the city, most likely focusing on the Chinese population.

What you need to know: While the growth of the Asian population is a significant point of interest, the real story is in the changing nature of the Asian population. In 2000, almost half (45.9%) of Asians in New York were Chinese (including Taiwanese), with Asian Indians (21.7%), Koreans (11%) and Filipinos (7%) the only other groups with more than 50,000 residents*. For 2010 the detailed Asian subgroup category hasn't been released yet, but when it is watch for a huge increase in the South Asian population, most significantly Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, and a decline (in percentage if not absolute terms) of the Chinese and Korean populations.

But these three things are all subtopics of the story of the Census. There's one big story that I'm almost sure will go unreported - but that's for the next post.

*edit: I should probably also point out that many, and perhaps even a majority of the people in the "Asian Indian" category are Guyanese or Trinidadians of Indian decent.

Data Source: You can download the race and ethnicity data for New York City (as well as for other American cities) for the period of 1790 - 1990 here. Spreadsheets are by State, with historic race and ethnicity data for the individual cities contains within. You can download race and ethnicity data for New York City from 1990 - 2010 from the NYC Department of City Planning website here.