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A census question and answer

(1) What is migration, and what is the difference between in-migration and out-migration?

The 2010 census data are resulting in a plethora of local news articles about population growth and decline.  Many community leaders are cheering because their communities had a population increase. As sports commentator Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.” Population increase alone is misleading if migration is not also considered.

Migration refers to the movement of people from one area to another.  To calculate the migration for a community take the current population, subtract the previous population, add the number of births during the period, and then subtract the deaths during the period. Consider this example of a fictional community I’ll call Center City:

>> 52,000     2010 Population

>> 50,000     2000 Population


>> 2,000     Population increase

Most people would say that a population increase is a good thing for a community. In general, that would be true. But what if Center City had 3,000 births during the 10-year period and 900 deaths? The difference in those two numbers is 2,100, which is how many new residents there would be if somehow a wall had been around the city. In other words, Center City would have a natural population increase of 2,100. But it only grew by 2,000.  What happened to those 100 people?  The answer is that they moved away, which is another way of saying that there was out-migration. Conversely, if the population increase is greater than the difference in the number of births and deaths there is in-migration. Failing to consider migration could lead to a misinterpretation of a community’s true growth trend.

(2) You often say that the primary determinant of where people live is where they work. Do the new census numbers confirm that?

Yes.  Take a look at just about any state and you will see that population clusters match job clusters. I often make a list of counties in my state ranked by number of jobs in each county.  My state has 82 counties. In any given month, over half of all jobs in my state are located in only 10 or 11 counties. I then compare that to population by county and find that about half of the people in the state live in those same counties. As I reviewed similar data from other states, the same pattern emerged.

(3) Are people continuing to sort themselves based on ideology as propounded in the book by Bill Bishop titled “The Big Sort?”

It appears that will be the case. What is obvious in studying voting patterns is that neighborhoods, in particular, and counties, in general, are sorting themselves based on ideology as well as on race, class, gender, and age. In other words, values, opinions and beliefs are also shaping where people move.  “The Big Sort” identifies 1965 as the beginning of the major shift in American political and social demographics. The book revealed that in the 1976 presidential election only 20 percent of Americans lived in counties that voted for one candidate or the other by more than a 20 percent margin or so-called super-majorities. By 2004, 48 percent of America’s counties were super-majority counties. What is obvious is that, in general, people continue to move to suburbs and away from rural areas and central cities. Interestingly, the subtitle of the book is “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American is Tearing Us Apart.”

(4) How has telecommuting affected where people live?

Not as much as predicted. Telecommuting was supposed to change the workplace and the places where we lived. There was this idea that people could live anywhere because they could work anywhere, meaning that their jobs were always with them because they could telecommute. For many, that has become a reality, although at a much slower rate than early predictions and desires.

The federal government, especially the Government Services Administration (GSA), is a good example. In Sept. 2007 the GSA administrator announced a goal to enable 50 percent of eligible agency employees to telework one or more days per week by 2010. At that time, 10 percent of eligible GSA employees were teleworking, compared to 4.2 percent for the overall federal workforce. Her goal is to increase participation to 20 percent by the end of 2008, 40 percent by the end of 2009 and finally 50 percent by 2010.  An admirable goal, for sure.  GSA has a teleworking we site — www.gsa.gov/portal/category/26434 — that provides information for employees, but does not seem to have much in the way of statistics and whether the above goals were met. One thing that can be learned from the GSA website is that telecommuting does not mean working at home. Although the agency allows certain employees to work at home, it has set up “Telework Centers” in the Washington, D.C., area.

So even though we hear a lot about how globalization and technology makes it possible for people to live anywhere there is another dynamic at work.  People want to be around other people for social as well as economic reasons.  Telecommuting is not about moving away from cities as much as it is about moving away from the traffic commute.

By the way, on Dec. 9, 2010 President Obama signed H.R. 1722, the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, into law.


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