Even if Northeastern states have lost 40% of their House seats, has the region lost that much influence?

Large-scale population shifts can have all sorts of effects including the loss of seats in Congress:

The Census Bureau reports that population growth has shifted to the South and the result is that the 11 states that make up the Northeast are being bled dry of representation in Washington…

Deep in a recent report, for example, the American Legislative Exchange Council tabulated how the drop in population relative to the rest of the nation cut the region’s power in Washington. While the states from Pennsylvania to Maine had 141 House members in 1950, they are down to 85 today, a drop of some 40 percent.

California and Texas combined have more House representatives..

“This result is one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in American history. This migration is shifting the power center of America right before our very eyes. The movement isn’t random or even about weather or resources. Economic freedom is the magnet and states ignore this force at their own peril,” said the report.

The last quote is particularly interesting as the population center of the United States has indeed kept moving further and further west (and a little south). Yet, even with the loss of seats from Northeastern states, New York City is still the #1 global city. Additionally, this region is close to the city of Washington D.C. which seems to be doing just fine in terms of wealthy counties and communities and a growing presence among large cities. Does having less seats in Congress necessarily mean the Northeast has lost 40% of its influence in American life? How many lobbyists are located in the Northeast compared to other places? Where are the institutions of higher learning from which many politicians and other elites come from? Where are the large media organizations?

It would also be interesting to see where these Northeast house seats have been lost. Is it primarily from large cities or more from mid-sized cities and more rural areas that have had steady population losses? Is this more of a Rust Belt phenomenon that affects cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Worcester more than Boston, New York, and Philadelphia?

Looking at concentrated income in the United States by county

Looking at median household income by county shows some interesting regional patterns in the United States:

There are more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. Of the 75 with the highest incomes, 44 are located in the Northeast, including Maryland and Virginia. The corridor of metropolitan statistical areas that runs from Washington, D.C., through Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston includes 37 of these top-earning counties (where the median family takes home at least $75,000 a year). Zoom in to the region, and it shows a kind of wealth belt unmatched even on the West Coast.

Poverty is similarly concentrated in the American South. Seventy-nine percent of the poorest counties in the country (where the median family makes less than $35,437) are located in the South..

Relative to 2007, 33 percent of all U.S. counties saw statistically significant increases in poverty by 2012 (across all age groups), deepening the challenges in places that had been struggling even before the recession. Over this same time period, however, one part of the country in particular saw an actual increase in median incomes, and it wasn’t the traditionally wealthy Northeast corridor.

It was the Upper Great Plains. Statistically significant increases in median income, from 2007-2012, are shown in green.

The maps help make these regional patterns clear. But, I wonder how much looking at patterns obscures some important information:

1. Counties are relatively big pieces of land. While income by county tells us something, it also covers up important variation within counties. Take a wealthy county: it doesn’t mean everyone is doing so but just that the median is higher than other places. Think of Manhattan where there are plenty of wealthy people but not everyone there is working on Wall Street or buying luxury condos in new buildings. It would be a lot harder to show on a single map but having 25th and 75th percentile information for each county would help show the relative distributions.

2. These figures aren’t weighted by population. A number of those wealthy Northeast counties have lots of plenty. In fact, perhaps the headline is understated when the population is accounted for. In contrast, the end of the article looks at a few counties where median incomes actually increases – the Great Plains with their new found gas wealth – but there aren’t many people there.

3. It is misleading to have a headline about wealth and talk about wealth in the article when the actual measure being used is median income or poverty levels based on income. Actually, looking at wealth and people’s full assets would likely show even wider gaps between counties.

To reiterate: county-level data can gives us a sense of broad patterns or clusters but may not be the best way to think about income changes in the United States.

Escape the McMansion invasion in New Jersey by moving to Bloomington, Indiana

This is a story you likely don’t hear everyday: in order to escape the sprawl and McMansions of New Jersey, one couple decided to leave their weekend home at the Jersey shore and buy a second house in Bloomington, Indiana.

But that was before McMansions began rising from the sand, and growing numbers of visitors descended as the narrow Atlantic spit solidified its reputation as a destination for families. The Kiefers found their neighborhood inundated by tourists, their property encroached upon by development, and their easy weekend commute become a traffic-snarled crawl.

So after a number of years of coping with sharp change, the Kiefers decided to search for a less suffocating second-home spot.

The hunt led them to Bloomington, a lively college town tucked in the rolling, forested hills of south-central Indiana. Taking full advantage of the huge run-up in property values on the Jersey Shore, they sold their beach house for “a nice profit” and bought a six-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot early-20th-century charmer in Bloomington’s historic Elm Heights neighborhood in 2010 for $321,000. “It feels like a real old-time community instead of a tourist town,” said Fred Kiefer.

Bloomington may not be touristy, but it is very much a destination. Indiana University draws intellectuals from around the country and abroad (mostly China, India and Saudi Arabia), giving the city of 74,000 healthy doses of youthful and international energy. And as a well-run city that consistently makes the lists of America’s best places to live, its status as a quality-of-life capital has lured retirees in growing numbers.

Some interesting points about this story:

1. The “McMansion invasion” theme comes up a lot in the Northeast, particularly in coastal towns. Are there also McMansions in Bloomington (I assume there are)?

2. This couple does have family in Louisville and Cincinnati so they didn’t exactly pick Bloomington out of the blue.

3. The biggest swipe at the area or Indiana comes in this benign phrase: “Drawbacks – Bloomington may not have enough urbane distractions for some.” This could be quite a change from New Jersey and either the New York City or Philadelphia areas.

4. Bloomington is a “creative class” city anchored by Indiana University.This would be appealing to a lot of people.

5. One of the bonuses of this move is the cheaper cost of living in Indiana. Does this outweigh the lack of “urbane distinctions”?

6. This makes me wonder how many people from either the East or West Coasts retire to the Midwest or purchase second homes there.

7. I’m tempted to ask: what happens when this couple wanders outside the relatively cosmopolitan Bloomington into non-creative class Indiana?

The most and least Christian American cities

The Barna group has put together a report that includes the American cities with the most and least residents who identify as Christians. Here are the lists of the most and least Christian cities:

The cities (measured in the Barna research as media markets) with the highest proportion of residents who describe themselves as Christian are typically in the South, including: Shreveport (98%), Birmingham (96%), Charlotte (96%), Nashville (95%), Greenville, SC / Asheville, NC (94%), New Orleans (94%), Indianapolis (93%), Lexington (93%), Roanoke-Lynchburg (93%), Little Rock (92%), and Memphis (92%).

The lowest share of self-identified Christians inhabited the following markets: San Francisco (68%), Portland, Oregon (71%), Portland, Maine (72%), Seattle (73%), Sacramento (73%), New York (73%), San Diego (75%), Los Angeles (75%), Boston (76%), Phoenix (78%), Miami (78%), Las Vegas (78%), and Denver (78%). Even in these cities, however, roughly three out of every four residents align with Christianity.

It appears the report goes on to talk to talk about a few implications: this shows that even in the least Christian cities, around three-quarters of the people identify as Christians and the figures confirm some stereotypes about regions (the Christian South vs. the secular Northeast and West).

However, I had a different sort of question: is life in the more Christian cities qualitatively different than the life in the less Christian cities? Are the Christian cities marked by different actions or programs? Are people in the Christian cities more welcoming and are they more willing and active in helping those who need help? Would a visitor be able to know which cities were the more Christian based on interactions with its people versus other measures like the number of churches or religious advertising? Does the Christian faith of the individual residents translate into a different kind of community or local government?

And if the answers to these questions is “no, it really isn’t that different,” then why not?