Understanding Demographics in the Largest U.S. Cities

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Data from the 2010 U.S. Census reveals both a continuation of previous trends and interesting insight into our nation’s demographics. In some ways, U.S. urban demographics are the best way to comprehend the American landscape. The data always allows for further observations and inferences. Starting with the overall state of things, the U.S. population increased by 0.9 percent between April 2010 and July 2011, but there are great disparities in population growth in the top 10 largest cities. Their growth data is as follows:

   2010 Population    2011 Population

Percentage of Change

New York City

8,008,278

8,175,133

2.1

Los Angeles

3,694,820

3,792,621

2.6

Chicago

2,896,016

2,695,598

–6.9

Houston

1,953,631

2,099,451

7.5

Philadelphia

1,517,550

1,526,006

0.6

Phoenix

1,321,045

1,445,632

9.4

San Antonio

1,144,646

1,327,407

16.0

San Diego

1,223,400

1,307,402

6.9

Dallas

1,188,580

1,197,816

0.8

San Jose

  894,943

  945,942

5.7

 

This data reflects a pattern that has been consistent throughout the 20th century. Every decade, the U.S. Census Bureau calculates the median center of population, a point on the map that represents the geographic center of the entire U.S. citizenry. This location has consistently moved to the south and west, and is currently in the southeast corner of Indiana. Recent data indicates highest growth in the Southwest and on the West Coast, with small gains on the East Coast and even decline in the Midwest.

Closer inspection of the demographics of individual cities reveals possible clues to population shifts. New York, for example, showed a very small increase in growth. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) reports that the median value of owner-occupied housing from 2006 to 2010 was nearly twice that of the New York state average, even though New York City was home to half of the entire state’s housing. A quick survey of nearby commuter communities in Hoboken, NJ, Westborough, PA and Yonkers NY, where housing costs are cheaper, revealed spikes in population growth well above that of New York City proper. It could be surmised that the burden of high real estate prices in New York City accounted for some of that population shift.

Los Angeles, while located in one of the fastest-growing states, also experienced relatively slow growth. Digging deeper into that city’s demographics reveals several influential factors, including a 6.1% unemployment rate and a severely disabled housing market. Los Angeles in particular is saturated with large homes with three or more bedrooms, while the ACS reports that only 19.3% of the area’s residents are traditional nuclear families with children. Additionally, Los Angeles denizens do not tend to move; 85.8% of this population report living in the same house for at least one year.

Houston, however, is booming on all measurable fronts. A cost of living index of 90.5, well below the national average of 100 and far below that of Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, has boosted population growth for the last decade. Houston also boasts business policies that attract new residents; in 2007, the ACS reported 15.1% black-owned firms, 10.4% Asian-owned firms, 23.3% Hispanic-owned firms and 28.9% women-owned firms. Its housing market is affordable and balanced with rentals and mortgaged properties of all sizes; interestingly, it reflects the oil boom of the 1970s, when 27% of Houston’s homes were built.

Data from the latest census and the ACS can be sliced and diced numerous ways and offers a peek into a city’s history and perhaps its future. A customizable search engine also allows you to access the Bureau’s vast collection of demographics about geographic locations. Searchable census data also exists in many other categories, including family living arrangements, fertility statistics, incomes, schools and popular baby names.

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