What we can learn from national projections

We released today population projections for the nation overall and for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). These are the first projections to be produced using data from the 2010 Census, and they detail changes between 2020 and 2040 in overall population and in subgroups by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin.

While many states develop state-specific projections for use in state and local-level planning, our approach applied the same methodology to all 50 state projections, allowing for a fresh analysis of how the demographics of the nation, and each of the states and D.C., may look in the future. Population trends, such as population aging and increasing diversity, are not experienced evenly across all states, and using a consistent methodology allows us to highlight variations at the state level that are missed in national-level projections. Continue reading

“Breadwinner” Moms in Virginia

“A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.” – Executive Summary, “Breadwinner Moms”

“Breadwinner Moms,” a recently released report from Pew Social & Demographic Trends, suggests, on its face, that gender equality in the labor force is perhaps closer than advocates for women’s rights would have us believe. The authors note that, as of 2011, “a record 40%” of households with children had mom as the primary breadwinner, up from 11% in 1960. There are a number of large-scale social and economic issues reflected in these seemingly straightforward numbers—changing household structures and trends in family formation; increasing female participation in higher education and the labor force; rising costs of living and stagnant wage growth that necessitate multiple earners within a family; and the lingering effects of the recession on labor market participation.

Moving beyond the initial “40%” number shows that there are really two populations being discussed: (1) single mother families and (2) married couple families in which the wife earns more than her husband. Using the term “breadwinner” with respect to women in single-mother families belies the economic realities of their situation. Single moms are the only potential earners in the family; many earn low (or no) wages and rely on public assistance to get by. This topic will be explored in greater depth in Virginia by Annie in our next blog post.

Discussions of the second population, married couples with “breadwinning” wives, gloss over problematic economic issues underpinning this shift, such as the disproportionate impact of the recession in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. While two earner families may create new challenges at home, such as negotiating child care and housework, and yield divergent opinions on what’s best for children, they also reflect a basic economic reality for many American families: one income is not enough. I was also troubled by the use of the term “breadwinner”—traditionally used to describe a household in which a single earner is able to support the entire family unit—to describe two earner households in which one partner is earning more than the other. Moreover, the wage gap between husbands and wives was never made clear; how much more are these “breadwinning” moms actually earning compared to their husbands? Let’s take a quick look at the 2011 American Community Survey data for Virginia.

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Food Stamp Participation by State, 1990-2013

The sluggish economic recovery and changes to participation guidelines have led to a steady increase in the number of individuals relying on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In January 2013, 47.3 million Americans, or 15% of the total population, received food stamps (Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty, according to recent Census Bureau estimates, but individuals and families slightly above the poverty line are eligible for SNAP as well).

The Wall Street Journal recently released a fantastic interactive graphic that shows trends in monthly food stamp participation, by state, from 1990 through 2013. Most states follow the overall national trend: participation rises in the mid-1990s, gradually declines through the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, flattens slightly through the 2000s, and then sharply increases following 2008.

US Food Stamp Participation, 1990-2013

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The Growth of Our Girth

In 2010, more than one-third of American adults ages 20-74 were obese, and another third were overweight. Even though I was well aware of the growing “obesity epidemic,” watching the steady, seemingly inexorable, increase in obesity rates between 1985-2010 came as a nearly physical shock.

This map, built on data from the Center for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), shows the prevalence rate of adult obesity by state for 1985 to 2010. Obesity state level estimates 1985-2010

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One-Third of Adults Receiving Need-Based Government Assistance Have a Disability

As Dustin and I documented in the second part of our series on poverty and the social safety net in Virginia, need-based government social safety net programs are typically targeted towards specific subgroups of low-income individuals: single mothers and their children, working adults, and individuals with disabilities. While poor single female-headed households and the working poor have received significant attention among researchers, the disabled population has received less attention, in part because regularly available, high quality data that capture aspects of disability status have only recently become available.

This past Tuesday, the Census Bureau released a report, Disability Characteristics of Income-Based Government Assistance Recipients in the United States: 2011, which uses 2011 American Community Survey data to document the disability prevalence and type among U.S. adults 18 and older receiving need-based public assistance. Nationally, 30.4% of adults receiving need-based government assistance report some type of disability. Virginia, like many of the states along the Appalachian mountains, has a slightly higher rate of disability among adults receiving need-based aid: 33.4%.

Disability Prevalence Among Income-Based Government Assistance Recipients by State, 2011

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Viable electoral college reform?

Artist Neil Freeman published a map of the United States redrawn to have 50 states with equal population, an art project that addresses what he says is “the fundamental problem of the electoral college”: “that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence.”

Fifty States with Equal Population

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Do improvements in consumption equal improvements in economic well-being?

The image of poor individuals living large on government handouts is a powerful one that implicitly characterizes the poor as undeserving of assistance. The narrative of the Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” is perhaps the most well-known trope, but more recent articles on consumption trends have dismissed concerns about rising income inequality by focusing on what New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall terms “the hidden prosperity of the poor.”

The central thesis of this line of argument is perhaps best summarized by George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux, whom Edsall quotes:

“[O]ur larger, more central, and most important point is that middle-class Americans are today far better off economically than they were 30 or 40 years ago, regardless of how their well-being today compares to that of rich Americans.”

This line of argumentation defines one of the primary characteristics of improved economic well-being as having access to better and more affordable goods and services than previous generations. As Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur write in the Wall Street Journal:

“[T]he access of low-income Americans—those earning less than $20,000 in real 2009 dollars—to devices that are part of the “good life” has increased [between 2001 and 2009]. The percentage of low-income households with a computer rose to 47.7% from 19.8% in 2001….

The percentage of low-income homes with air-conditioning equipment rose to 83.5% from 65.8%, with dishwashers to 30.8% from 17.6%, with a washing machine to 62.4% from 57.2%, and with a clothes dryer to 56.5% from 44.9%.”

The argument that the poor are somehow “doing okay” because they have access to air conditioners, time saving devices, and computers is a distraction from a larger discussion that is worth having, and ignores key issues underlying the consumption theory. Continue reading

Virginia Population Estimates Show Impact of Aging, Resurgence of Cities

Every year, the Cooper Center produces the official population estimates for the commonwealth of Virginia. The current estimates are based on changes since the 2010 census in housing stock, school enrollment, births, deaths, and driver’s licenses. They are used by state and local government agencies in revenue sharing, funding allocations, planning and budgeting.

Since 2010, Virginia has grown faster than the nation, growing by 2.3% between the 2010 census and July 2, 2012, to nearly 8.2 million residents. Within Virginia, the largest population gains continue to be concentrated in the urban centers of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. And much of Virginia’s overall growth remains driven by the rapid growth of Northern Virginia, with 54% of the state’s growth between 2010 and 2012 occurring in NoVA.

Figure 1. Numerical Population Change, 2010-2012

Numerical Change 2010-2012

Although many growth patterns in the population estimates appear to be the continuation of past trends – Northern Virginia’s continued growth, stagnant growth and population loss in more rural areas of the state—the 2012 estimates also show signs of population aging and renewed growth in Virginia’s independent cities.

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