Implicating suburban sprawl in the spread of ticks and pathogens

As new tick-borne illnesses spread, sprawl is part of the problem:

But as climate change, suburban sprawl, and increased international travel are putting more ticks and the pathogens they carry in the paths of humans, what’s becoming more urgently apparent is how the US’s tick monitoring systems are not keeping pace.

“It’s really a patchwork in terms of the effort that different areas are putting into surveillance,” says Becky Eisen, a tick biologist with CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne diseases. The federal public health agency maintains national maps of the ranges of different tick species, but they’re extrapolated from scattered data collected in large part by academic researchers. Only a few states, mostly in the Northeast, have dedicated tick surveillance and control programs. That leaves large parts of the country in a data blackout.

To help address that problem the CDC is funding an effort to identify the most urgent gaps in surveillance. It has also begun publishing guidance documents for public health departments on how to collect ticks and test them for diseases, to encourage more consistent data collection across different states and counties.

In an ideal world, says Eisen, every county in the US would send a few well-protected people out into fields and forests every spring and summer, setting traps or dragging a white flannel sheet between them to collect all the ticks making their homes in the grasses and underbrush. Their precise numbers, locations, and species would be recorded so that later on when they get ground up and tested, that DNA would paint a national picture of risk for exposure to every tick-borne pathogen in America. But she recognizes that would be incredibly labor-intensive, and with only so many public funding dollars to go around each year, there are always competing priorities.“But from a research perspective, that’s the kind of repeatable, consistent data we’d really want,” says Eisen. “That would be the dream.”

While there is little direct discussion of sprawl, I wonder if there are two problems at play.

First, sprawl puts more people in interaction with more natural settings. As metropolitan areas expand, more residents end up in higher densities in areas that previously had experienced limited human residence. More people at the wildland urban interface could potentially lead to more problems in both directions: humans can pick up diseases while nature can be negatively impacted by more people.

Second, increasing sprawl means more data needs to be collected as more people are at possible threat. Metropolitan areas (metropolitan statistical areas according to the Census Bureau) typically expand county by county as outer counties increase in population and have more ties to the rest of the region. Since many metropolitan regions expand in circles, adding more counties at the edges could significantly increase the number of counties that need monitoring. And as the article ends with, finding money to do all that data collection and analysis is difficult.

Making a horror film about illnesses carried by ticks would take some work to make interesting but these sorts of hidden and minimally problematic in terms of number of suburbanites at this point issues could cause a lot of anxiety.

Mapping county votes in the 2018 House elections

More media outlets are using maps to illustrate the results of the 2018 election. See this story from NPR that uses country level voting to show where the two parties picked up or lost House seats:

NPRcountyelectionresults2018.png

Of the 41 congressional districts that Democrats turned from red to blue this election, 38 were suburban, according to an analysis by The New York Times. (Democrats may pick up one to two more seats, once all votes are counted and elections are certified.)

But more granular than congressional districts overall are the counties that compose them. We mapped the percentage of House ballots cast for the party that received the most votes in each suburban county, and we looked at how that compared with 2016.

This map hints at metropolitan regions swinging toward one party or another while still generally adhering to the patterns of big cities and close suburbs vote Democratic and further-flung suburbs vote Republican. Regions like Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston swung entirely Democratic. Some were more split: Denver, San Antonio, Miami, Orlando, and Washington, D.C.

The finding that Chicago suburbs pay more than get from the state feeds which narrative?

A new study looks at how much Illinois counties contribute to the state versus how much they receive. The results are lopsided:

For every dollar DuPage County taxpayers send to Springfield, the state returns 31 cents…

Cook County receives 80 cents for every dollar contributed, Lake County gets back 39 cents, Kane County sees 76 cents come back for every dollar, McHenry County sees 42 cents returned and Will County receives 68 cents for every dollar sent to Springfield.

“We have in this state a long-standing legend that downstate is supporting Cook County and Chicago. The farther south you drive, the more virulent that narrative becomes,” said John Jackson, one of the report’s two authors. “The biggest theme of this whole paper is that we make the case that facts are better than fiction in terms of public discourse on this topic.”…

“It’s just because geographic politics are powerful, so it’s in the interest of people running for office downstate to say we’re exporting money to fat cats in Chicago and the suburbs,” Martire said.

Finding evidence that counters one common narrative can be powerful. Narratives develop over time and take on a life of their own. The downstate versus Chicago narrative – probably more accurately given the realities of metropolitan economies, downstate versus the large Chicago region – has existed for a long time. Arguably, this goes back to the opening decades of the state where much of the population and power existed in the southern and central regions before the opening of the northern part of Illinois to settlement in the 1830s and 1840s.

At the same time, this data could be used to promote a different narrative: the Chicago counties are unfairly treated by the state. These counties generate a lot of wealth and are penalized by the state. Why are the good, hard-working taxpayers of these counties penalized for their success? Why can’t the state keep the money generated there to help address the numerous issues present in the Chicago region? Just based on the data, the situation looks pretty unequal. In the long run, this narrative (with evidence) with the sides switched better for Illinois?

More broadly, these kinds of analyses of geographic disparities in funding present some really thorny issues for larger governmental bodies such as states and the United States as a whole. Balancing urban versus rural interests also goes back to the founding of our country resulting in key ideas like the Senate being the more powerful chamber with two votes per state regardless of population and the electoral college as opposed to a popular vote.

The clustering of wealthy counties in the United States

With recently released data, the Census Bureau describes the patterns in the wealthiest counties in the United States:

A Census Bureau report on the “highlights” of the data released yesterday noted that the nation’s wealthiest counties are disproportionately in the corridor of territory that runs from Virginia and Maryland and then north along the East Coast.

“Seventy-seven counties had a median household income within the highest range ($81,129 to $125,900),” said the “highlights” report. “Forty-two of these high-income counties were located in the Northeast region, Maryland and Virginia.”…

Nationwide, the median household income in 2015 was $55,755, according to the Census Bureau. That means the local median household income in each of the nation’s three richest counties—all of which are Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia—are more than twice the national median household income.

Of the Top 20 richest counties in the nation, nine are suburbs of the city that serves as the seat of a federal government

It then wouldn’t be too hard to look for patterns in other demographic data across these wealthier counties. One marker – noted in this article – is that many of these wealthier counties are suburban. But, I’m guessing these counties are also well educated and largely white.

It would also be interesting to see how those concerned with inequality would deal with county level data. Many American counties don’t have a lot of control compared to municipalities or states. There can be a lot of variation within counties, both really wealthy and really poor pockets. Usually, recommendations about poverty or affordable housing are made at a municipal or regional level. Is there a way to leverage counties to address particular issues?

Local note: it appears that three Chicago area counties – Lake, DuPage, and Kendall – fit into the highest range in the data. See page 3 of the Census highlights.

The geography of minority majority counties

New data on demographic change in the United States highlights counties with minority-majority populations:

In 370 counties across 36 states and the District of Columbia, non-Hispanic whites accounted for less than half the population as of July 2015. That includes 31 additional counties since 2010, such as those encompassing Fort Worth and Austin in Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and parts of suburban Atlanta and Sacramento, Calif.

Of the nation’s 3,142 counties, the so-called minority majority ones—12% of the total—represent an outsize chunk of the U.S. population since they are home to almost one-third of Americans…

In Texas, Latinos are the main group driving the shift, primarily because they are younger and have more children than whites, said Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter. Whites are also moving out of the urban cores of Fort Worth and Austin.

A notable uptick in Asian immigrants is also diversifying these cities, Mr. Potter said. Immigration from Mexico has slowed so much that the percentage of immigrants coming to Texas from Asia is almost as high as the share coming from Latin America. “That’s a very dramatic shift in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

In other words, there are two processes going on:

  1. The spread of minorities – particularly new groups since the 1965 Immigration Act – throughout all parts of the United States, including rural areas.
  2. Continued concentration of non-whites in large urban centers.

There is enough demographic change taking place across the country that many communities have new populations even as minority majority counties are still limited. All of this probably contributes to some of the geographic divides of today such as competing interests between urban, suburban, and rural groups as well as Democrats having city votes, Republicans having rural votes, and the parties fighting over suburban votes.

266 US counties have white populations under 50% but are the same processes at work in all of them?

A recent Pew report shows the counties in the United States with majority-minority populations:

Pew crunched Census numbers from the 2,440 U.S. counties that had more than 10,000 residents in 2013. Whites made up less than half the population in a total of 266 counties. Even though these 266 counties made up only 11 percent of the counties analyzed, they contained 31 percent of the country’s total population, with many of them home to dense urban areas.

Most of these counties are sprinkled around the Sun Belt states in southern part of the country (below).

Of the 25 counties with the largest total populations, 19 now have non-white majorities. As of 2000, six of these (four in California and two in Florida) had white majorities. The most dramatic change within the last decade can be seen in counties in Georgia. The share of white residents in Henry County, for example, fell from 80 percent in 2000 to a little less than 50 percent in 2013.

It is interesting to see where these counties are located and think of the social forces that led to this. Not all of these counties have the same mix of minority groups or the same history. Some of the counties are those with large cities where white populations declined with suburban growth. Some of the counties are in the South with large black populations. There are some counties in the Great Plains, southwest, and northwest that have large Native American populations. There are counties with large Latino populations, largely in the southwest and those involving immigrant gateways. There are also some counties with large Asian populations – the phenomenon behind the concept of ethnoburbs – though I wonder if there are many with 50% or more Asians.

Thus, while this data corroborates the ongoing trend of whites constituting a smaller percentage of the American population (currently around 63%), the increasing minority population is not monolithic nor does it influence all places in the same ways.

Linking Tea Party support and residential segregation by education

A recent study suggests Tea Party support is higher in counties with higher levels of educational segregation:

McVeigh and coauthors, Kraig Beyerlein, Burrel Vann and Priyamvada Trivedi, examine why certain U.S. counties are conducive to the establishment of Tea Party organizations. Their statistical analyses show that even after accounting for many other factors, Tea Party organizations were much more likely to form in counties with high levels of residential segregation based on education levels, and that college graduates were more likely to indicate support for the Tea Party if they resided in a county characterized by high levels of educational segregation.

“Acceptance or rejection of the Tea Party’s views on the government’s role in redistributing wealth is shaped, to a large degree, by the extent to which those who have benefited from higher education are set apart in their daily lives from those who have not,” says McVeigh, who specializes in inequality, social movements, race and ethnicity.

“As the article explains, the commonly held view that individuals and families who are struggling to get by are undeserving of government assistance is reinforced when the highly educated have limited contact with those who have been less fortunate.”

I noticed this because that sneaky factor of residential segregation proves influential again. The average resident may not think about it much beyond the immediate value of their home or the nearby school district but where one lives can influence a lot about social life, including with whom you interact.

Of course, if your political perspective is that it is preferable to live in more uniform communities – stereotypically, small towns or suburbs – this may not be a problem…