Asset income across American counties, from Teton County to South Dakota

A new report finds gaps in asset income across locations in the United States:

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Wyoming’s Teton County, home to Jackson Hole, has the nation’s highest per-capita income from assets, according to a study by the Economic Innovation Group. The analysis found a sharp increase in geographic concentration of asset ownership over the past decades…

It’s soared in places like New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile, across Appalachia, the Deep South and much of the Midwest, it stagnated, representing a negligible source of income…

Nationwide, the county with the lowest asset income per capita is in South Dakota, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At $2,800 per person, it’s one-third of the national average. Among the largest U.S. counties, the ones with the five lowest incomes from assets per capita are all mostly Hispanic or Black.

Only a minority of Americans holds assets beyond homes, cars and retirement savings. About 15% of households own stocks and 13% hold business equity or other residential property, according to Fed data.

First, the emphasis here on asset income is helpful compared to the more common analysis of incomes. While income may be related to assets, assets gets more at wealth or how income is converted into more long-lasting economic resources.

Second, that assets are concentrated in particular locations is not surprising but with the relatively limited number of Americans who have certain assets, this concentration is even more notable. The truly wealthy Americans have assets and utilize them in certain places, like New York City, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

With this said, how much does increasing incomes reduce the gap in wealth and assets? Or, how might efforts at local and national levels affect this gap both locally and nationally? The most exclusive locations are going to be difficult for many Americans to afford at any point, regardless of their income. While much sociological research has studied the concentration of poverty, wealth also concentrates with positive feedback loops for those who can participate.

The power of local politics to shape national outcomes

A deep look at the changing political tides in suburban Oakland County, Michigan ends with this:

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Such a post-mortem would likely reveal that the party’s disinterest in holding onto the suburbs prevents the rise of new Pattersonian Republicans with their own identities separate from Trumpism and that this will have long-term historical consequences.

“There are dozens, if not hundreds of these local or regional-level political power brokers who shape the outcomes of how our cities and regions function in ways that just aren’t visible to most people,” says Delmont, the Dartmouth historian. “We spend so much time talking about who’s in the White House or even who’s in Congress. But it might be the L. Brooks Pattersons of the world who actually determine, like: Do we have affordable housing? Do we have segregated cities? Do we have police forces that are militarized? The people who actually operate the levers of power are probably much more positioned like a Brooks Patterson than a President Trump or President Biden.”

National politics are indeed often built on smaller units of government. While a lot of attention goes to presidential elections (and this article also focuses on Donald Trump and how this connects to local politics), there is a lot of work that happens at the Congressional, state, and other levels that undergird the larger outcomes. A candidate or political party is going to struggle without grassroots, lower-level support.

This reminds me of my blog post Thursday about addressing housing issues municipality by municipality. We often look at particular issues at a national level. How to provide affordable housing? How to explain the rise and fall of Donald Trump? There are multiple levels of analysis possible and needed. In this post and on Thursday, the reminder is that the local level matters. Does Oakland County and all the local machinations about county seats and redestricting determine who will be president or which political party will control Congress? No, but add up a lot of counties in important areas – particularly with suburban voters who can be swayed election to election – and this can start to matter.

Another side to this is how American residents approach local government. Particularly in suburban areas, they like the idea of local control. Yet, local voting can be very low with turnout around 15-20%. If elections for county boards in places like suburban Detroit matter for national outcomes, shouldn’t suburbanites pay more attention local elections?

What looking at COVID-19 risk by county across the United States can tell us

A new analysis by the Census Bureau looks at the risk for COVID-19 by county:

CountyLevelCOVID19RiskLevels

See how the Census Bureau calculated the risk here.

Several thoughts on the map:

1. There are some patterns. Many counties in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West having lower levels of risk (outside of urban counties). In contrast, the Sun Belt and the West Coast are at higher risk.

2. Doing this at the county level makes some sense: people might travel within a county for work, errands, and other activity. At the same time, there could be significant disparities across communities within counties that a map like this covers up. For example, it looks like DuPage County is somewhere in the middle and some suburbs there have higher rates of cases than others.

3. The differences across geographies also speak to the difficulties of enacting policies across different areas. On the risk map, some states have more consistent patterns while others have a mix (ranging from more equal numbers of counties at different levels or a few heavily populated counties versus everyone else). National policies have to address places with different experiences and different futures.

4. This data cannot tell us how many people cross county lines within a region or state. There are clusters of counties with similar risk levels but this may not speak much to travel as to similar populations.

More on COVID-19 in suburbs

While much of the COVID-19 attention has been on cities, it is also present in suburban locations. Yesterday, I looked at cases in DuPage County west of Chicago. Today, a little digging around for other suburban locations:

Westchester County, New York

The New York region leads the United States in number of cases and deaths. Westchester County is a wealthy county just north of the city. Early on, an outbreak in New Rochelle received attention. According to figures for the county as of a few days ago, it looks like COVID-19 is in a number of community in sizable numbers.

Nassau and Suffolk Counties, New York

These Long Island suburban counties have thousands of cases and as of April 9 are being watched by officials:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said health officials “watching” Nassau and Suffolk counties as the number of deaths related to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is on the rise.

There have now been 18,548 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nassau County – up 1,938 from the day before, while Suffolk County has reached 15,844 cases, an increase of 291…

“We’ve been watching Rockland County, Nassau County, Suffolk County closely,” he said. “We’re looking at the concentric circles around New York City, and the natural spread circles are toward the suburbs. Westchester has already had trouble, now we’re seeing new hotspots on Long Island and the other suburbs.

Seattle area, Washington

King County, Washington is home both to Seattle and over a million suburban residents and two surrounding counties, Snohomish and Pierce, have more suburban residents. An update on the cases and deaths as of last night:

King County has been struck the hardest with Covid-19 with 3,688 cases and 244 deaths. Snohomish County reports 1,695 cases and 63 deaths. Pierce County reports 795 cases and 16 deaths.

From mid-March, a story of how the Seattle suburb of Kirkland responded in early March:

Within hours, Kirkland, an affluent mid-sized suburb that until two weeks ago was best known outside of Washington as the namesake for Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand, became the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

More than 60 Kirkland residents, including people staying there temporarily, have died from or been hospitalized with the virus. Nearly all of them were associated with Life Care Center. Many patients with symptoms are at EvergreenHealth, a Kirkland hospital, which has seen nearly 100 confirmed cases and 24 deaths.

Kirkland’s response to the crisis is being watched around the country, and other cities are looking to them for guidance as infections spread.

New Orleans area

An update from yesterday shows numerous cases in and around New Orleans:

Orleans and Jefferson parishes continue to lead all other parishes with their coronavirus cases. According to Thursday’s update, New Orleans has 5,242 cases while Jefferson Parish is reporting 4,480 cases…

Other parishes seeing high case numbers include East Baton Rouge, Caddo and St. Tammany. Health officials continue to monitor St. John the Baptist, Ascension and Lafourche parishes where cases are in the 300-400 range.

In sum, numerous suburban counties and communities outside of major cities hit by COVID-19 are also facing significant numbers of cases. Various factors could be at play including race/ethnicity, the locations of jobs and workplaces, and the ability of suburban governments and organizations to respond to the threat.

(And a bonus story from ABC in Australia: how residents of Australian suburbs are coping with isolation.)

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.