Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Census Data, Mapping, and the Coming Redistricting

In the last day or so we've started to see the release of a trove of new Census data.  What we're getting now are results from the American Community Survey which tracks demographic changes over the 2005 to 2009 period.  The New York Times has an incredible interactive tool that allows you to pull up maps based on zip code and census tract--allowing you to search by race, income, and a few other variables.

When one maps by race, the prevalence of segregation inevitably, and necessarily, comes up.  Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on some of the work done at the Brookings Institution with this new data.  Interestingly, what the data shows is that residential segregation has actually been on the decline, with differing degrees of white/black and white/Hispanic segregation.  Despite a general positive trend toward desegregation, many metropolitan areas remain highly segregated.  Not surprisingly these areas tend to be concentrated in northern, rust belt states.  I've talked about this phenomenon a lot on this site so I can't say I was too shocked by the findings.  Milwaukee, as it has in many similar studies, sits at the top of the list.  Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covers this story from the local perspective (If you want to get really depressed, read the comments section after the story).

Beyond the correlations between race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and voting behavior, this data is important in that it begins to set the context in which the next round of reapportionment and redistricting will take place.  As constituencies get created for local, state, and national offices, politicians oftentimes use deliberate strategies to encompass certain populations within district lines.  At the congressional level, the 1965 Voting Rights Act mandates that race be taken into account in certain circumstances.  Thus, pay attention to how this type of information is used as each state begins this oftentimes highly contentious process in the next few years.  The largest and most comprehensive national portrait, of course, will be provided by the 2010 Census.  The first batch of that data will be released next week so I'll probably have more to say then. 

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