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Demographics Divides: A new report categorizes cities and suburbs in new ways

Demographics Divides: A new report categorizes cities and suburbs in new ways

Picture of Angilee Shah

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program released a report today on "The State of Metro America," which focuses on the demographics of cities and suburbs.

Poynter Institute's News University, a site filled with great education resources for journalists of all experience levels, introduced the report in a webinar of the same name last week. You need to enroll in the class to access the content, which has a promotional price of $4.95.

The webinar featured Alan Berube, a senior fellow and research director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and former policy advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department. Brookings' report released today provides much fodder for stories that look at the big picture and ask good questions about communities.

The report analyzes almost a decade of American Community Survey data from metro areas in the country, providing a preview to the 2010 Census. Cities and suburbs are home to 66 percent of Americans. These areas account for 77 percent of U.S. population growth of 28 million people from 2000 to 2009.

34 percent of the population is nonwhite. The report projects that the country will have a majority minority population by 2042. The country is also aging; the number of 55-to-64 year-olds grew 50 percent in the last ten years. 71 percent of baby boomers and seniors live in suburban areas, and 75 percent of seniors are white. Income disparity is growing and poverty is on the rise.

Berube described the findings about income as the "suburbanization of poverty." Poverty in suburbs grew 25 percent, while in cities, poverty grew 5 percent.

The report analyzes population, aging, education, diversity and income. It classifies metro areas along demographic similarites, rather than geographic proximity. In a nutshell:

  • "Demographic success stories," such as Denver, Houston and Sacramento, have educational and economic growth but also growing income diparities.
  • "Geographically diverse destinations," such as Atlanta and Kansas City, are "middle-class familty magnets" which are becoming more diverse.
  • "Diverse giants," such as Los Angeles and New York, are "the real melting pots of our country," immigration gateways with the highest disparities in income and education.
  • "Border growth" areas are the Latin American immigration centers, from Modesto to Orlando, which have suffered greatly from the recession and have "severe educational disparities".
  • "Mid-sized magnets," such as Tampa and Little Rock, have the oldest populations and have reduced and sprawled growth.
  • The Rust Belt is divided into "skilled anchors," such as Boston and St. Louis, which have shifted out of manufacturing and have large senior populations, and "industrial cores," such as Cleveland and Wichita, which have the greatest challenges in terms of growth and education. These areas collectively lost population in the last decade.

"This is the new metro map of America that we see," said Berube, "which forces us to think outside the conventionl regional boxes that have formed our narrative for generations."

The results beg the question, are we meeting the needs of our changing communities?

There are many specific things we might ask about our metropolitan areas for reporting related to this report. Are suburbs built to meet needs of current seniors? How does growing poverty manifest itself in suburbs? Are health facilities and practitioners prepared to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population? How does education and income in your specific city compared to the rest of its metropolitan area? How does it compare to other demographically similar areas? What will be the environmental impact, and best response, to population growth?

You can access the entire report online, search for your own community and use interactive features to create maps with the data. The Brookings site will be updated with the latest data every year. Patchwork Nation, created by PBS in partnership with the Christian Science Monitor, also offers maps and community categorization based on demographics. For more immigration data, Berube recommended the Pew Hispanic Center.


Picture of Angilee Shah

Quick addition: I got to play with the interactive map a bit and customized a visualization of the change in percentage of people in Southern California who drive to work alone from 2000 to 2008. The Los Angeles metro area's number of commuters is on the rise with almost 1 percent more people commuting alone. Here's a screenshot:

Custom map from The State of Metropolitan America report

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