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2010 Census and a Study of the Past

Posted on April 07, 2010 7:53 am

A New Census!

I’m sure many of us have seen the flyers laid out across tables in coffee shops or have gotten the survey mails (yet another form to fill out in light of the soon-to-be-due taxes). It’s time again for the decennial census. While estimates are taken every year in New York, the full census counts everyone. Of course, all that information is currently being collated (a long and lengthy process). The final results should shed a more accurate light on household sizes, and demographics.

A study into the recession based on Census data

Of course, thinking about the census, one has to wonder about the demographic changes in New York during the financial crisis of 2008 (and the aftermath in 2009). Luckily, the Census estimates each year can shed some light on what happened. We’ll finally be able to answer some burning questions, such as:

Did the population decrease or slow down (did people leave the city)? Did people living in Manhattan really leave and move to the outer boroughs? Did all those people living in 1-bedrooms or studios by themselves really shack up with their friends and start sharing apartments?

Based on anecdotal evidence (such as our friends and neighbors), we might be able to take a crack at some of these questions. However, just using the Census website, we can get actual estimates on demographics in Manhattan (New York County) versus some of the outer boroughs (Queens, Bronx, and Kings [Brooklyn] counties). It turns out the government provides easy access to all sorts of free information. We turn to the following sources:

* American Community Survey –

* Vintage Population Estimates –

Did people move out of the city? Where did they move to?

We’ve all heard stories about cash-strapped families and youths moving out of Manhattan into the surrounding boroughs. We might even have unlucky friends who were forced to move back home out of the city. Is there any truth to it? Well first, lets take a look at the population trend of New York City versus the other 100 largest counties in the country over the last decade. The graph below shows the year-over-year population changes of Manhattan vs the other counties.

New York vs Other 100 Cities Pop. Growth (%)

New York vs Other 100 Largest Counties Pop. Growth (%) Source: Census Population Estimate

Wow! Expected, but to this magnitude? While New York county (Manhattan), held its own in terms of growth, it took a nose-dive between 2008 and 2009 relative to the other 100 largest cities. Note that the sharp up-tick in population in 2001 (and the subsequent slower growth) may have been due to base-effects from a lowered population in 2000 (after the events of 9/11). So clearly, part of the >3% vacancy rate we hit sometime in 2009 was from people leaving the city – combined with excess inventory from new buildings coming online.

But let’s take another look – that of New York versus the boroughs. Here, we answer our second question. Was there a surge of population into Manhattan during the “booming” years of 2003 – 2007? And then a subsequent movement out? We use the same data-set and end up with this picture:

Manhattan vs Other NYC Counties

Manhattan vs Other NYC Counties Source: Census Population Estimate

Yes indeed. Not including the large spike in Manhattan population in 2001, Manhattan seems to have “taken away” population from the boroughs early in 2000. However, when 2008 hit, a complete shift happened. In fact, it seems the boroughs (Kings County [Brooklyn], Queens County, and Bronx County) grew while Manhattan shrank. Of course, some of the slow-down in overall growth started in 2008 – which we might be able to explain by inflation and higher costs early in the year. After all, didn’t oil hit ~$130 before plummeting 70-some % later that year?

Did people move out of their single apartments and shack up with friends?

To answer this question, we turn to the most recent data from the American Community Survey. Unfortunately, they only have full-year data through December 2008 (which is mingled with data for the entire year). As a result, we can’t draw the most accurate conclusion – and will have to wait for the 2009 data to come out. However, taking a preliminary look, we really can’t conclude that people started “shacking up” with their friends.

Manhattan Households / Household Sizes

Manhattan Households / Household Sizes

We can expect household size data to be somewhat dampened and lagged by the standard 12-month lease terms. However, just a preliminary look doesn’t suggest people moved in with their friends. In fact, it seems that between 2007 and 2008, people actually moved out to live on their own. Surprising isn’t it? Depending on the new data that comes out in the next few months, we might be able to debunk the rumor that people have been moving in together to save on rent.

As more data comes out, RentHop will be taking a closer look at the demographic changes over the last decade in New York (and the outer boroughs). We’ll be following up as the census data gets finalized. Stay tuned!

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