Five More Census Trends for Marketers

Now With Extra Regional Variation, Housing Data and Urban Growth!

By Published on .

In Monday's issue, Ad Age looked at five Census 2010 trends marketers should be planning around. Here are five more:

The 2010 Census starkly documented the housing market collapse: Since 2000, vacant housing units increased over four times faster than occupied ones.
The 2010 Census counted 131.7 million dwelling units a 13.6% increase compared to a 9.7% rise in the total population. Among those dwelling units, 116.7 million were occupied and 15 million were vacant.

Occupied homes, also known as households, increased 10.7% since 2000, just one point above the population growth rate. But the number of vacant housing units jumped 43.8%, an increase of 4.6 million units. Some of that huge increase can be attributed to foreclosures, but quite a few were built as second homes. In any case, such a huge increase in vacant homes points to vast overbuilding during the past decade and it will almost certainly keep a tight lid on home prices.

An absence of rising home prices means that fewer consumers can use their home equity as a credit card and that may dampen consumer spending for years or until home prices start to rise again. One out of every four vacant housing units is in three states: Florida with 1.6 million, and California and Texas each with 1.1 million.

A new consumer phenomenon has emerged: homeowners who cannot move because they owe more on their house than it will fetch in the marketplace. That also puts a damper on consumer spending because those consumers have to put more of their earnings into paying down their mortgage so they can move perhaps to a better job.

The slowest growth in the nation is occurring in Northeastern and Midwestern states, where population edged up 3.2% and 3.9%, respectively.
The White, non-Hispanic population dropped by 1.3 million in the Northeast and by about 290,000 in the Midwest. In the same period there was a 2.7 million increase in the Northeast and 2 million increase in the Midwest Hispanic and Asian populations.

It's safe to say that neither region would have had any significant population growth without their rapidly growing Hispanics and Asians, many of whom were immigrants. But even still, three quarters (76%) of the nationwide increase of 19.5 million Hispanics and Asians was in the South or West.

This suggests that the national debate about immigration will take on a decidedly regional cast. The Southern and Western states, which clearly have received the great majority of immigrants, are likely to feel differently about welcoming more of them than the Northeast and Midwest, which may want and need more of them to resupply their depleted child population and future workforce.

The big decline in numbers of children in the Northeast and Midwest can only mean that over the past decade those two regions had an aging White, non-Hispanic population combined with high out-migration of young adults to other regions. This is not a recipe for robust future economic growth.
Nasty political fights are under way over funding for public education (as well as other public services) in a number of slow growth Northeast and Midwest states. The effect will almost certainly be to increase the out-migration of young adults to the South and West as more young people vote with their feet rather than go to the polls.

The nation's 366 metropolitan areas picked up nearly all population growth: 92.4%.
Americans may complain about urban problems but the overwhelming majority (84%) choose to live either in or in the vicinity of a city of 50,000 people or more. In fact almost 100 million Americans (32%) choose to live in one of the 15 largest metro areas each of which has more than 4 million residents. So much for Minnesota Public Radio's idealized pastoral America.

The largest metro area is, of course, the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA metropolitan area with almost 19 million residents -- up 3.1% since 2000. The 50 largest metros are home to 53% of the nation's residents, and all of them except five (four rust belt metros and New Orleans) grew over the past decade. The smallest metro is Carson City, Nev., with 55,000 residents, up 5.4% since 2000.

Outside of metro areas, the Census Bureau defines counties that have a place of between 10,000 and 50,000 inhabitants as "Micropolitan." Presumably that name was chosen over mini-metros, but that's what they are. The 2010 Census counted 30 million people living in 576 micropolitan areas, the largest of which is Seaford, Del., with almost 200,000 residents, 26% more than in 2000. The smallest is another hot spot: Tallulah, LA with about 12,000 residents, 12% fewer than in 2000.

A mere 19.5 million people, 6.3% of the nation's population, live in rural America outside of all the metros or micros from New York to Tallulah. There's only 1.3% more residents in these sparsely populated areas than there were in 2000. It looks like the faster pace of urban life continues to be more attractive than the alternative.

Despite the recession there's a lot more second or vacation homes than in 2000.
Nationwide about 30% of vacant units are, in Census Bureau parlance, "for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use." But in some states, notably Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, more than two-thirds of vacant units are for that purpose.

In those three states population rose 5% from 2000 to 2010 while the number of households went up 8%. But the number of vacant units jumped 26%. The same thing happened in another heavy vacation home state: Wisconsin. There the population and number of households rose 6% and 9% respectively, but the number of vacant units went up 46%.

None of those four states had the kind of speculative overbuilding seen in the Southwest so we must conclude that the second home market is thriving, as interviews with Northern New England Realtors confirms.

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Mr. Francese is demographic trends analyst at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and founder of American Demographics magazine.

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