High Cotton: When Virginia’s Counties Hit Their Peak

If you grew up in one of Northern Virginia's Historical PopulationVirginia’s suburban counties, such as Prince William, or in any of Virginia’s metro areas, you likely grew up with the impression that growth is as certain as the seasons. For decades, many counties in Virginia have grown relentlessly, constructing thousands of homes each year to house new residents. With more residents come more schools, roads, offices and shops. Except for the hard times around the Civil War, Virginia’s population as a whole has grown continuously since it was a colony.

But outside Virginia’s largest urban areas, population growth is not a fact of life. In 2013, the population of most of Virginia’s counties and cities had declined from when it peaked in the past.Peak Population3

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Retiring Boomers are going rural (but not too rural)

There is a lot of buzz amongst urbanists and demographers about millennials’ preference for urban areas.  We’ve found evidence to support this narrative in some areas of Virginia, including indications that they may be staying even after having kids.

But there’s also a lot of talk about baby boomers retiring and moving into cities.  Maybe this is happening in other parts of the U.S., but it’s certainly not the case in Virginia.  On the contrary, they appear to be heading for the hills.  In fact, despite Forbes Magazine naming Virginia its 5th best state to retire in, Virginia does not appear to attract many retirees in general.

Virginia is aging quickly, as can be seen on the map below.  From 2000 to 2010, the median age in the Commonwealth rose from 35.7 to 37.5.  In some localities, it rose by as many as 5 or 6 years in just that 10-year period.  But most of that is due to a gradual decline in birthrates, not older people moving in.  From 2000 to 2010, migration accounted for only a slight (1-2%) increase in the population of age groups around retirement age, and that increase was smaller than the state’s overall growth rate.

Median Age Change

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Average Density of Virginia’s Metro Areas

Recently, I’ve been comparing a number of traits of metropolitan areas based on distance from the core.  Here I’m looking at the average densities of each metro area as you travel outwards from the center, calculated using census blocks and 2010 short-form census data.  I’ve graphed them in groups of three.  Cities with a strong core will have high densities on the left (near the center) that fall off as you travel outwards.  Cities whose densities fall off quickly on the right have clearer edges, while those that taper off slowly are more spread out.  Click on the graphs to view them full screen.

First are the three major metro areas.  Note that the Northern VA graph includes only Virginia census blocks, not the rest of the DC area.  Northern VA has the largest population by far, with fairly high densities even several miles into the suburbs.  Richmond has the smoothest curve.  I used downtown Norfolk as the core for Hampton Roads, but the area’s polycentricity is obvious.

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Virginia’s Regions: Northern Virginia is Different

This week, the Demographics Research Group updated its profile of Virginia’s regions. The eight regions of the Commonwealth were identified by the Demographics Research Group based on proximity, geography, demographic characteristics and shared socioeconomic conditions. While there are many shared characteristics across Virginia’s regions, our profile shows that a number of differences exist as well.

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Northern Virginia stands out the most among Virginia’s regions, but this is not a new trend as Charles Grymes notes on Virginia Places:

“Northern Virginia has been “different” ever since Lord Fairfax established a land office issuing Northern Neck deeds independently from the colonial government in Williamsburg” Continue reading

Home Construction: Running to Stand Still

New home construction rose over 23 percent in Virginia between 2012 and 2013, according to building permit data collected by the Census Bureau and the Weldon Cooper Center. In suburban counties, the number of new homes built during the past year increased much more than in urban localities, but construction levels still remain a fraction of those seen during the early 2000s housing boom.

 Homes Built Annually in the Mid Atlantic

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Click on arrows at bottom of slideshow to scroll through years

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Regional Cost of Living Adjustments for Poverty Rates in Virginia

Common sense tells us that the cost of goods and services are different in different parts of the country.  For instance, the economic reality and expenditures of families living in Northern Virginia are not the same as those living in Lynchburg or those living in Wise County.  The cost of housing and rent is particularly variable, but other basics such as food or transportation are surprisingly different across Virginia’s regions as well.

Despite common sense, official poverty rates do not account for this variability.  The income threshold for poverty for a family living in New York City is the same for a similar family living in Fargo, North Dakota.  More disturbingly, billions of dollars of government benefits and services are distributed to localities and families based on the official poverty measure.  Other public and private organizations also use the official statistics to target their operations.

With so much at stake, a new poverty measure that addresses regional differences in the cost of living is needed.  The Census Bureau has recently developed the Supplemental Poverty Measure (or SPM) to do this at the national level, but states and localities are at a disadvantage.  Only 3-year SPM averages are available for states and none are available at the sub-state level.

Virginia, however, now has a new alternative poverty measure that accounts for regional differences in the cost of living and provides sub-state estimates of poverty rates.  As elaborated in my previous post, the new “Virginia Poverty Measure” (VPM) provides some interesting insights about economic distress in the commonwealth, but perhaps the most striking results are the result of its regional adjustments.

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Climbing Mount NoVa in 2012

For 2012 election-related commentary, please see these recent posts :

  1. Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics
  2. Virginia Votes 2012
  3. Virginia Votes 2012:  Turnout across localities
  4. Lower turnout in 2012 makes the case for political realignment in 2008

As part of my larger work on the 2012 election in Virginia (which I plan to release as a Cooper Center publication very soon), I have been wading through Virginia’s historical election data looking for meaningful trends and patterns that might offer some clues for what might happen this November.  The most striking trend over the past 50 years is the growing influence of Northern Virginia in electoral outcomes.

Many are aware of the phenomenon of the “Two Virginias,” but not as many fully appreciate the magnitude of the differences between NoVa (Northern Virginia) and RoVa (The Rest of Virginia).  In many demographic analyses it is often not entirely inappropriate to treat the two as two separate states.  On almost all measures of economic status, racial and ethnic diversity, or even basic demographics such as age or sex, NoVa stands apart.  The counties that make up NoVa (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and the smaller independent cities within) are some of the richest and most educated in the country.

NoVa is also growing increasingly Democratic in its political disposition compared to RoVa, thanks in part to growing minority populations in the region.  Obama’s victory in NoVa was perhaps the biggest contributing factor to his sizable victory in the Old Dominion, a state that has not voted for a Democratic candidate since Johnson in 1964. This seismic shift goes unnoticed when looking at a traditional county results map. Continue reading