Middle class declines in the majority of US metropolitan areas

A new study from Pew shows that the middle class did not do well in many metro areas between 2000 and 2014:

The report by Pew Research Center found that the share of the middle class fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined from 2000 to 2014, including major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which saw a relatively sharp drop in its middle class.

For many areas, a big culprit in the declining middle was the falloff in manufacturing jobs during that 14-year period, when factories shed about 5 million workers from their payrolls nationally…

The news was not all downcast, especially for metro areas in coastal and border regions that have benefited from the boom in technology, trade and resources…

Among the 229 metro areas, which constitute about 76% of the U.S. population in 2014, there were slightly more areas that saw a bigger increase in the share of upper-income population than lower-income adults. Still, Pew’s Kochhar did not view that as a big win for the American economy. The median incomes of the lower, middle and upper tiers all shrank between 2000 and 2014, he said.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. The continued effect of losing manufacturing jobs cannot be overstated: this has hurt numerous cities for decades. It is not easy for any large city to transition from such jobs to opportunities in new sectors.
  2. Looking at this data at the level of a metropolitan region is helpful because it hints at broad patterns within regions that are often segregated by social class and race. The phenomenon of the rich and poor living right next to each other as well as trendy and wealthy communities getting a lot of attention is not exclusive to cities; similar patterns can be found in suburban areas.
  3. Connected to the second point is that solutions to income issues could come at the level of the entire region rather than within individual communities. How might entire regions help the middle class? Why don’t more large cities and surrounding suburbs work together on these issues? (I know why they don’t but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t benefit many local residents.)

The influential 1965 Immigration Act

The current position of the United States regarding immigrants was heavily influenced by the 1965 Immigration Act:

A new Pew Research Center report finds that the 1965 Immigration Act was largely responsible for bringing 59 million immigrants into the American population between then and 2015. These new arrivals, their kids, and their grandkids make up over half of the total U.S. population growth during this period. Looking ahead to 2065, immigrants that came to America as a result of this law, plus their families, will account for almost 90 percent of the nation’s population increase from now to then…

The Immigration Act of 1924 clamped down on immigration from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Western and Southern Europe. Here’s Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University, commenting on the explicit racism of the policy, via NPR:

“It declared that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race. The Nordics were superior to the Alpines, who in turn were superior to the Mediterraneans, and all of them were superior to the Jews and the Asians.”

The 1965 law re-wrote that policy, and since then America’s white population share has declined from 84 percent at the time to 62 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population share grew from 4 to 18 percent, and Asians rose from less than 1 percent to 6 percent (below, left). If President Johnson hadn’t signed the 1965 law, America would be 75 percent white today…

Quite a long-lasting impact for a piece of legislation that still doesn’t seem to get much attention today. And, as the article notes, it may not have been easy to know the impact of the Act at the time even as its effect from the vantage point of today looks significant. If supporters or opponents of immigration want to support or change policy, this is a place to start (though there have been changes made since then).

Also noted: much of the population increase in the United States in recent decades is due to immigration. Otherwise, the fate of the country looks more like many other industrialized nations with low birth rates and an aging population.

Religious change: Americans identifying as Christian drops to 70.6%

New data from Pew Research shows a drop in how many American adults identify as Christians:

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

Changing U.S. Religious Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the drop in religious affiliation will get a lot of attention, this report has other interesting information: American Christians have become more non-white; religious intermarriage is up; Black Protestants have been stable while Evangelical Christians are growing whereas Catholics and Mainline Protestants have lost large numbers; and non-Christian groups have grown but are still quite small.

Examining the claim that “conservatives prefer suburban McMansions while liberals like urban enclaves”

The new report from Pew on political polarization reaffirms there is an urban/suburban divide in the electorate:

With disquieting predictability, 10,013 adults — respondents in the largest survey the Pew Research Center has ever conducted on political attitudes — answered according to their ideology. Seventy-seven percent of “consistently liberal” adults went with what sounded like the urban milieu: the dense neighborhood, the compact home, the “walkability.” Fully seventy-five percent of “consistently conservative” adults went with the polar opposite.

“It is an enduring stereotype – conservatives prefer suburban McMansions while liberals like urban enclaves – but one that is grounded in reality,” Pew concluded in the report released today.

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This is corroborated by other data: Democrats are centered in cities, Republicans in exurbs and more rural areas, and the parties fight over suburban votes.

Two interesting points from the tables above:

1. The first question describing more spread out areas versus cities is a double- or triple-barreled question that supposedly contrasts more suburban versus more urban areas. Maybe. Take the larger or smaller house part of the question. Plenty of wealthier urban residents own single-family homes or large condos or apartments – but these neighborhoods aren’t going to be as sprawling as many urban neighborhoods. But, even there, you would get some big differences between denser cities – the Northeast, Midwest, San Francisco – versus more sprawling city neighborhoods in places like Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and other Sunbelt locations.

2. In the second chart, the real difference between conservatives and liberals is not that they have different opinions about suburbs: that holds relatively steady at around 20%. The bigger differences are between preferring cities versus small towns or rural areas. I’ve seen enough other data about small towns on surveys to think that there is quite a bit of overlap between suburbs and small towns. In other words, they are not mutually exclusive categories. Even some rural areas might still be suburbs, depending on their location within a metropolitan region or their proximity from the big city.

All together then, the suggestion that it is suburban McMansions versus cities is a bit misleading. Adding the label McMansion gets the point across about larger houses but it also adds a pejorative element to the mix.

Pew reminds us that Twitter users are not representative of the US population

In looking at this story, I was led to a recent Pew study that compared the political leanings of Twitter to the political opinions of the general US population. One takeaway: the two populations are not the same.

The lack of consistent correspondence between Twitter reaction and public opinion is partly a reflection of the fact that those who get news on Twitter – and particularly those who tweet news – are very different demographically from the public.

The overall reach of Twitter is modest. In the Pew Research Center’s 2012 biennial news consumption survey, just 13% of adults said they ever use Twitter or read Twitter messages; only 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news or news headlines on Twitter.

Twitter users are not representative of the public. Most notably, Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. In the 2012 news consumption survey, half (50%) of adults who said they posted news on Twitter were younger than 30, compared with 23% of all adults. And 57% of those who posted news on Twitter were either Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 46% of the general public. (Another recent Pew Research Center survey provides even more detail on who uses Twitter and other social media.)

In another respect, the Twitter audience also is broader than the sample of a traditional national survey. People under the age of 18 can participate in Twitter conversations, while national surveys are limited to adults 18 and older. Similarly, Twitter conversations also may include those living outside the United States.

Perhaps most important, the Twitter users who choose to share their views on events vary with the topics in the news. Those who tweeted about the California same-sex marriage ruling were likely not the same group as those who tweeted about Obama’s inaugural or Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan.

This leads to me to three thoughts:

1. What does this mean for the archiving of Twitter being undertaken by the Library of Congress? While it is still an interesting data source, Twitter provides a very small slice of U.S. opinion.

2. This is emblematic of larger issues with relying on new technologies to do research: who uses newer technologies is not the same as the U.S. population. This can be corrected for, as a recent article titled “A More Perfect Poll” suggests, and technologies can eventually filter throughout the whole U.S. population. In the meantime, researchers need to be careful about what they conclude.

3. So…what do we do about a comparison of a non-representative sample to a population? Pew seems to admit this:

While this provides an interesting look into how communities of interest respond to different circumstances, it does not reliably correlate with the overall reaction of adults nationwide.

This is an odd way to conclude a statistical report.

Pew Research: the response rate for a typical phone survey is now 9% and response rates are down across the board

Earlier this year, Pew Research described a growing problem for pollsters: over 90% of the  public that doesn’t want to participate in telephone surveys.

It has become increasingly difficult to contact potential respondents and to persuade them to participate. The percentage of households in a sample that are successfully interviewed – the response rate – has fallen dramatically. At Pew Research, the response rate of a typical telephone survey was 36% in 1997 and is just 9% today.

The general decline in response rates is evident across nearly all types of surveys, in the United States and abroad. At the same time, greater effort and expense are required to achieve even the diminished response rates of today. These challenges have led many to question whether surveys are still providing accurate and unbiased information. Although response rates have decreased in landline surveys, the inclusion of cell phones – necessitated by the rapid rise of households with cell phones but no landline – has further contributed to the overall decline in response rates for telephone surveys.

A new study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that, despite declining response rates, telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures. This comports with the consistent record of accuracy achieved by major polls when it comes to estimating election outcomes, among other things.

This is not to say that declining response rates are without consequence. One significant area of potential non-response bias identified in the study is that survey participants tend to be significantly more engaged in civic activity than those who do not participate, confirming what previous research has shown. People who volunteer are more likely to agree to take part in surveys than those who do not do these things. This has serious implications for a survey’s ability to accurately gauge behaviors related to volunteerism and civic activity. For example, telephone surveys may overestimate such behaviors as church attendance, contacting elected officials, or attending campaign events.

Read on for more comparisons between those who do tend to participate in telephone surveys and those who do not.

This has been a growing problem for years now: more people don’t want to be contacted and it is more difficult to contact cell phone users. One way this might be combated is to offer participants small incentives. This is already done with some online panels and it is more commonly used in mail surveys. These incentives wouldn’t be large enough to sway opinion or perhaps just get a sample of people who want the incentive but would be enough to raise response rates. It could be thought of as just enough to acknowledge and thank people for their time. I don’t know what the profit margins of firms like Gallup or Pew are but I imagine they could offer these small incentives quite easily.

This does suggest that the science of weighting is increasingly important. Having government benchmarks is really important, hence, the need for updated Census figures. However, it is not inconceivable that the Census could be scaled back: this is often a conservative proposal either based on the money spent on the Census Bureau or the “invasive” questions asked. And, it also may make the Census even more political as years of polling might be dependent on getting the figures “right,” depending on what side of the political aisle one is one.

Rising income segregation in the United States

Sociologist Stephen Klineberg discusses income segregation and a new Pew Report that suggests it is growing in the United States:

So what’s happening – as the gap between rich and poor increases, people increasingly live in very separate worlds and we’ve always sort of been more comfortable in communities made up of what the Wall Street Journal once called PLUs, people like us. Right? We never liked it too much. There were a lot of people much poorer than us or much richer than us. We’d like to be in those communities where we felt at home and with people like ourselves and you see it in Houston, I think, more than most other cities because Houston is still, today, the most spread out, least dense major city in the country…

The great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide. It’s a class divide…

Oh, tremendous consequences of the isolation of the poor in places where there are only other poor people with very few connections to the job opportunities that are out there, to the knowledge. We know that there are several forms of capital. Right? There’s human capital, which is education. There’s financial capital and there’s, above all, social capital. Who do you know? Who are you connected with? Who can you go to for advice? Who will know about jobs that are opening and help connect you to those jobs?

And so the isolation of the poor creates two things. Number one is it isolates the poor in ways that make it much more difficult for them to work their way out of poverty and it isolates the rich so that they live in worlds where they have no clue as to the kind of challenges that people are facing.

This is not a new issue. However, several decades ago, the focus was more on the extremely poor/the hypersegregated living in inner cities, and now the problem is perceived to be affecting more people.

The Pew report can be found here and here are some of the findings:

The analysis finds that 28% of lower-income households in 2010 were located in a majority lower-income census tract, up from 23% in 1980, and that 18% of upper- income households were located in a majority upper-income census tract, up from 9% in 1980.

These increases are related to the long-term rise in income inequality, which has led to a shrinkage in the share of neighborhoods across the United States that are predominantly middle class or mixed income—to 76% in 2010, down from 85% in 1980—and a rise in the shares that are majority lower income (18% in 2010, up from 12% in 1980) and majority upper income (6% in 2010, up from 3% in 1980)…

By adding together the share of lower-income households living in a majority lower-income tract and the share of upper-income households living in a majority upper-income tract, this Pew Research analysis has developed a single Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) score for each of the nation’s top 30 metropolitan areas…

Among the nation’s 10 largest metro areas, Houston (61) and Dallas (60) have the highest RISI scores, followed closely by New York (57). At the other end of the scale, Boston (36), Chicago (41) and Atlanta (41) have the lowest RISI scores among the nation’s 10 largest metro areas.

Worth paying attention in the years ahead. Even in the era of Facebook, Twitter, and more weak ties, neighbors and neighborhoods still matter for a number of important life outcomes.