Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poverty in NOVA: Redefining Poverty in Virginia

The Weldon-Cooper's Stat Chat blog continues to be one of my favorites because they are constantly changing the way we look at numbers.  Their latest project - redefining Virginia poverty.

First, their new report points out that poverty is not something can be defined uniformly across all areas due to different variables - different costs of housing, transportation, healthcare, good, etc.  Existing poverty measures are built on consumption models from the 1960's.  People spend their money differently today.  For example, one big expense variable in Northern Virginia is be childcare - numerous studies have shown that the D.C. Metropolitan Area has the highest childcare costs in the United States. 

Therefore, they have defined poverty into something called the "Virginia Poverty Index" or "VPI."

Once you look at the VPI an interesting trend emerges in Northern Virginia.  The area inside the Beltway has just as much or more poverty than the Shenandoah Valley, Piedmont, Richmond, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.  Only Western Hampton Roads, Southside and Southwest have a statistically significant higher poverty index than the "inside the Beltway" area.  I suspect that if they had drilled down harder, the 44th District would have fit better into the "Inside the Beltway" section than the "Fairfax" section.

The important take away is that most people do not think of Northern Virginia as having anything close to those levels of poverty due to the amount of wealth in Northern Virginia relative to the rest of the Commonwealth, but it does.  One fundamental conclusion from the study:
Although Northern Virginia counties and cities enjoy some of the highest median incomes in the nation, the VPM shows that the extent of economic deprivation in the region is significantly greater than what official poverty statistics suggest. For example, by capturing the impact of the region’s high cost of housing, the VPM finds many more Northern Virginia residents in or near poverty, particularly those living inside the Beltway.
Other fundamental conclusions:
  • Fewer Virginian children are in poverty.
  • More Virginians are in "near poverty," fewer are in "deep poverty"
  • Traditional Virginia poverty statistics tends to under report Hispanic poverty,
One thing that has always bothered me in all the data I get about Virginia is that Fairfax County is all lumped together as one big mass of 1.1 million people or all in with Northern Virginia while counties as small as 40,000 are their own dataset. 

Fairfax County is larger than eight states - we deserve better information.  This takes one step towards that goal, but going forward, I hope they will consider breaking Fairfax County down into further groups so we can see our region's details. 

Once you start to shine a light on these issues, it is easier to generate action.  Hopefully, this study will help to begin to debunk the idea that Northern Virginia is wealthy.  While there is an extraordinary amount of wealth in our community, there is a lot of need to counter it.

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