Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.
Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.

The United States Census produces massive amounts of data that can be combed through to learn more about our population and how it changes over time. In her piece for US News, Danielle Kurtzleben highlights some of the major findings from the latest Census data release.

Depending on the way you look at it, Asians or Hispanics (or both!) were the fastest growing population in the United States from 2011-2012. Hispanics had the largest growth in terms of population numbers, while Asians saw the largest rate of population growth each year. Meanwhile, the white birthrate was very low. More white people died than were born, and the population would have seen a net decrease if not for immigration. Further, among the elderly (over 80 years old), nearly 80% were white. The majority of children under age two are now minorities.

And then there’s North Dakota. An outlier in the data, the “upper Dakota” is actually getting younger. It is also majority male and has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the nation. All of this is largely a result of the state’s booming oil and gas industry, coupled with its relatively low past population (increases seem bigger when they’re building on a smaller population base). The new oil rush has also shored up North Dakota’s shockingly low unemployment rate of just 3.3%. For over a century, the Census has shown a nation in flux, but right now, it’s solid old North Dakota that’s hardest to pin down.

Photo by Brian D. Hawkins via flickr.com
Photo by Brian D. Hawkins via flickr.com/briandhawkins.com

For the first time in about a century, new Census data reveal that population growth in big U.S. cities is exceeding that of the suburbs. According to the Associated Press (via Huffington Post):

Primary cities in large metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million grew by 1.1 percent last year, compared with 0.9 percent in surrounding suburbs. While the definitions of city and suburb have changed over the decades, it’s the first time that growth of large core cities outpaced that of suburbs since the early 1900s.

In all, city growth in 2011 surpassed or equaled that of suburbs in roughly 33 of the nation’s 51 large metro areas, compared to just five in the last decade.

Young adults forgoing homeownership and embracing the conveniences of urban life appear to be a driving force behind this trend.

Burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary, lower-wage positions, they are spurning homeownership in the suburbs for shorter-term, no-strings-attached apartment living, public transit and proximity to potential jobs in larger cities…They make up roughly 1 in 6 Americans, and some sociologists are calling them “generation rent.”

A related report from NPR further cites tougher mortgage rules since the housing bubble burst as an important factor.

Even with big drops in housing prices and interest rates, getting a mortgage has become a lot harder since the heady days of “no income, no assets” loans that fueled the housing boom of the early 2000s. Most lenders now require a rock-steady source of income and a substantial down payment before they will even look at potential borrowers. And many millennials won’t be able to reach that steep threshold.

The combination of stricter mortgage requirements, college loan debt, and a tough economy leaves sociologist Katherine Newman skeptical of young adults’ prospects for home ownership for the foreseeable future. From Huffington Post:

“Young adults simply can’t amass the down payments needed and don’t have the earnings,” she said. “They will be renting for a very long time.”

The Social States of America, 2010
For the first time ever, the National Archives and Records Administration is making the 1940 census public.   Scholars planning to use the data for research, citizens hoping to track down their ancestors, and many others are excited about the release.  In fact, after nearly 37 million hits in 8 hours, the website crashed.  For more, including how the Minnesota Population Center is helping to make the information easier to access, click here!

Australian census forms

An Associated Press exclusive, published by Fox News, explained that 1 in 14 people went beyond the standard race labels in the 2010 Census.

The figures show most of the write-in respondents are multiracial Americans or Hispanics, many of whom don’t believe they fit within the four government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native. Because Hispanic is defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos used the “some other race” category to establish a Hispanic racial identity.

Three million other write-ins came from Arabs, Middle Easterns, or others and who don’t fully view themselves as “white.”  To better understand this, the Associated Press turned to a sociologist.

“It’s a continual problem to measure such a personal concept using a check box,” said Carolyn Liebler, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in demography, identity and race. “The world is changing, and more people today feel free to identify themselves however they want — whether it’s black-white, biracial, Scottish-Nigerian or American. It can create challenges whenever a set of people feel the boxes don’t fit them.”

Though it’s personal, racial identity is also a highly political issue.  Census data are used to distribute federal aid, draw political districts, and enforce anti-discrimination laws.  As the number of people identifying as “some other race” has jumped 3.7 million in the last decade, it’s clear this personal and political issue will be something Americans continue to wrestle with.

More than half of new mothers now get paid leave from work, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week. At face value the news might seem like cause for celebration, but some have dug deeper to expose exactly which mothers were getting paid leave.

The 22-page census report reported that a super-slim majority of women were getting paid leave: 51 percent of first-time mothers were able to take paid maternity, sick, or vacation time between 2006 and 2008. Hence the divide between which half of moms headlines highlighted:

“Majority of new moms are getting paid leave” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Paid-leave benefits lagging for working moms in U.S.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Census shows half of working women don’t get paid maternity benefits; wide gaps by education” (Associated Press)

The lack of access to paid leave among women who haven’t completed college is raising concern. According to the AP article, “Lower-educated mothers are nearly four times more likely than college graduates to be denied paid maternity benefits. That’s the widest gap over the past 50 years.” (The chart above illustrates the comparison.)

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, shared her opinion. “This isn’t good news for women at the bottom, and the irony is that the people with the most children are now the least likely to have the supports they need,” she told the Associated Press.

University of Minnesota sociologist Erin Kelly echoed Gerson’s sentiment when interviewed by the Star Tribune. “People who are already living paycheck to paycheck, if they don’t have access to paid leave they’re going to have to quit or they’re going to have to do something that is really unhealthy for themselves or their babies,” Kelly told the paper. “The lack of [federal] paid leave policy means in effect we are pushing those women to quit.”