Why Virginia Needs a New Poverty Measure

How many of us are poor?

Answering that question is not as easy as one may think.  Yes, we do have an official poverty statistic that is produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, but nobody likes it.  Many on the Left think it is too low, failing to capture the full array of expenses that families face.  Folks on the Right think it is too high because it does not account for the effects of many anti-poverty programs and tax credits on family budgets.

Even the Census Bureau is not entirely satisfied with current poverty statistics.  As they continue to produce the official measure, they have recently been releasing alternative statistics through the “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) program.  These new numbers reflect a more nuanced look into poverty, and are widely believed by researchers and the media to better capture the actual financial circumstances of American families.

But the SPM has its limitations.  Primary among them is that the new measure is designed for the national level.  State estimates are only available as three-year averages, and local-level estimates are not available at all.

This is unfortunate for a state like Virginia, which has wide regional inequalities in terms of economics, education, and even basic demographics.  Because of this, official poverty statistics don’t make sense in Virginia.  A one-size-fits-all measure that defines poverty in Northern Virginia the same as it does in coal country does not work and belies our commonsense understanding of the actual resources and costs families face across regions.  A better method is needed.

Today, the Cooper Center is releasing its work on a new “Virginia Poverty Measure” (VPM) that will provide SPM-like estimates for Virginia and its local regions.

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More Dot Density Maps

By popular demand, I’m attaching dot density maps for more Virginia cities plus a new statewide map…enjoy:

Plus the ones from the previous post:

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One dot, one person: population density maps for Virginia cities

For the new, interactive, Racial Dot Map project visit HERE.

Our recent post on dot density mapping of U.S., Canadian, and Mexico census data by MIT’s Media Lab got a lot of attention…so we decided to give it a try ourselves, taking a deeper look into census data for Virginia’s major urban centers and smaller cities. All of the dots on the following maps represent one person, as enumerated by the 2010 Census, with a little bit of a twist.  Rather than giving everyone a black dot, as MIT’s Media Lab did, we added another layer of data by assigning color dots based on race and ethnicity.  The results are quite illuminating…

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Animating historical county boundaries and census data

Among those of us who love old maps, the good people at the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries project have digitized and uploaded historical information on the shape of American counties.  With this data one can animate how America’s political boundaries have changed since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia Colonies.  The above video shows historic county boundaries from 1630 to 1910 (shortly after Oklahoma and Indian Territory joined to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907).  Please note these boundaries show the creation of government-defined geographic units, not necessarily where population is located.

Another great thing about this data is the level of detail available.  For instance, focusing on the monumental changes that Virginia has gone through is quite interesting:

Note the emergence of many of Virginia’s Independent Cities at the turn of the 20th Century.

Things get more interesting when these county files are merged with historical census data.  Inspired by our previous post on “Every person gets a dot,” I decided to look at county population dot densities from the first United States Census of 1790 to the recent 2010 Census.  Here, every dot represents 5,000 people:

Dustin Cable is a Policy Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where he conducts research on topics that lie at the intersection of demographics, politics, and public policy.

Who are the 11 million?

With the recent push by Senate lawmakers and the White House for immigration reform, one number is being tossed around a lot.  It has been estimated that there are about 11 million illegal residents in the United States.  Where does that number come from and who exactly are these people?

These questions were highlighted in a recent National Journal article by Brian Resnick, which describes the work of Pew Hispanic Center demographer Jeffrey Passel, whose estimates of the illegal immigrant population have become widely used in the media.  The illegal immigrant population cannot be directly measured by any of the major national surveys.  Unsurprisingly, response rates for voluntary, and even legally-required, surveys are particularly low for the illegal population.   Instead, Passel and the Pew Hispanic Center rely on a methodology that indirectly measures this group of people.  Here’s how it works:

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New redistricting move proposes big changes to Virginia Senate districts

On Monday, the Virginia Senate narrowly passed (20-19) a new redistricting bill that will dramatically change the boundaries of the current Senate districts drawn just two years ago.  The plan, passed by Senate Republicans on a party-line vote when a Democratic Senator was away on Inauguration Day, has been criticized by Democrats as an overt attempt to give Republicans an advantage in future elections by “packing” and “cracking” black communities in Virginia in order to dilute their voting power.  Republican Sen. John Watkins, the legislator who sponsored the redistricting amendments, instead says the new plan would defuse possible Voting Rights Act legal challenges by creating a new minority-majority district and also cited improvements in district compactness.

The move by Senate Republicans is unusual, as such massive changes to a district map are typically reserved for redistricting sessions right after the decennial census.  As a result, this recent redistricting drama has garnered much national attention this week and was a top-ten story on Politico.com Wednesday.

The Virginia Public Access Project has made the proposed HB259 plan available for viewing on their interactive maps:

Virginia Map of Senate Redistricting Plan HB259

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Lower turnout in 2012 makes the case for political realignment in 2008

Now that most states have finalized and submitted their official election results (yes, it does take that long), we can take a closer look into state and local turnout rates for the 2012 presidential election.

But first, an overview of the results…

As we all know, Barack Obama will be starting his second term after he is inaugurated in a couple of days.  While it would probably be hasty to say that Obama received a huge “mandate” from the election back in November, it’s fair to say he defeated Mitt Romney handily, with room to lose battleground states and still win.  In fact, one of the more surprising results from the presidential election is how little the electoral map changed from 2008.  The county-level results for 2012 and 2008 below illustrates this point:

GIF Animation of Nation Election Outcomes 2008, 2012

Obama’s margins over his Republican challenger shrunk in most battleground states and was enough to flip Indiana and North Carolina, the only two states to switch between 2008 and 2012.  But despite the slow and tenuous economic recovery, high unemployment, a controversial health reform law, and a slew of other things Obama had going against him during the campaign, nothing much changed.  This was also despite lower turnout rates across the country.

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Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics

In my humble opinion, the biggest news coming out of the election last night was not Ohio.  Instead, the polling results coming out of Virginia, that heavily favored Obama early in the evening, set the tone for the entire night.  The story of what happened in Virginia exemplifies where our politics in this country now stand.  Obama’s repeat victory in the Old Dominion underscores what was probably the biggest factor in the 2012 election: demographics.

For our regular readers, especially those who read our Red State, Blue State report back in July, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.  Ohio, Florida, and other swing states are used to the attention and have been “purple” for a long time now. Obama’s repeat victory in Virginia, however, a state that has voted consistently for Republican presidential candidates before 2008, is really big news.  More than anything else, Obama’s victory in Virginia means that 2008 wasn’t a fluke, but rather represented a fundamental political realignment in the country.

That realignment is bad news for Republicans.  The Republican party has serious demographic problems.  Virginia’s shifting demographics, like that of the nation, have been dramatic in just the last few decades with Hispanics and Asians driving most population growth and changes in the electorate.  Republicans have had considerable difficulty gaining the votes of these groups.  In Virginia, most of the influx and growth in Hispanic and Asian populations is occurring around the Washington D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia (NoVa).  It was therefore not surprising that NoVa was the focus of the national news media, and results from that region look more like those from 2008 than from 2004.

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