Monday, June 05, 2006

Sometimes, Statistics Lie

Sometimes, Statistics Lie

Lots of people seem to refer to as a source for statistics, photos, weather, maps, etc. for just about any city or village in the U.S.

One popular feature of the site is the "Top 100 Lists." These indicate the relative ranking of places (mostly those of at least 2,000 people) in a variety of categories.

For example, according to

  • The three largest U.S. cities are located... in Alaska! That's largest in land area. Even though Sitka (2,874 square miles), Juneau (2,718), and Anchorage (1,697) are large - they're certainly not BIG cities.

  • Another fun one: "Cities" (over 5,000 pop.) with Lowest Ratio of Median House Value to Median Household Income. A bunch of places in Texas rank high on this very crude measure of housing affordability. But so do several St. Louis area suburbs. For example:
    Village of Cahokia, IL. Ranking = #12. Ratio = 1.27. Median Income = $31k. Median House Price = $39k.
    Glasgow Village (unincorporated pocket), MO. Ranking = #46. Ratio = 1.45. Median Income = $36k. Median House Price = $52k.
    City of Dellwood, MO. Ranking = #47. Ratio = 1.46. Median Income = $43k. Median House Price = $63k.
    City of St. John, MO. Ranking = #77. Ratio = 1.53. Median Income = $38k. Median House Price = $58k.
    City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO. Ranking = #93. Ratio = 1.56. Median Income = $40k. Median House Price = $62k.

    What these ratios basically mean is that in those North County and Metro East suburbs, it should only take about a year-and-a-half (on average) to earn enough to pay for your house.

    Of course, just because houses are affordable relative to the average income of the town, doesn't necessarily mean these are good places to live. Indeed, all of these munis are what might be deemed 'transitional' - income, on average, is going down, as are housing sale prices, as better-off (mostly white) old timers move out to St. Charles County (or the Shiloh/O'Fallon IL area in the case of Cahokia), and are replaced by typically much less affluent African-Americans.

  • On the other hand, some places are really, really unaffordable - especially in California. The least affordable places list - those with the Highest Ratio of Median House Value to Median Household Income is topped by Isla Vista, California. Ratio = 24.91. Median Income = $16k. Median House Price = $402k.

    Why is that? Well, it can be explained by Isla Vista also coming out as #17 on the list of Youngest Residents (median age = 21.1) and #3 on Highest Percentage of College Students (76.6%).

    Isla Vista is the home of UC-Santa Barbara. It's not just a college town - it's basically a college campus/suburb of the much larger seaside city (with similarly costly houses) of Santa Barbara. That explains the statistical anomaly pretty well.

  • Another list where college towns come out on top: High-Educated but Low-Earning Cities. This is particularly true of places with large graduate schools. So, Stanford, CA is #1. 95% of the population has a bachelor's degree (and 65% a graduate degree), but the median income is only $41k, pretty low by California standards.

    Strangely, both Clayton, MO (#47, 70% with BA, median income $64k) and Richmond Heights, MO (#86, 57% with BA, median income $50k) appear on this list as well.

  • And finally, there's this list: Largest Percentage of Males. Three little burgs in Illinois come out on top: Baldwin (94%), Irving (90%), and Ina (90%).

    Why? Each of those towns hosts a men's prison with a population greater than the regular resident population. In Ina, it's the Big Muddy Correctional Center, for example. Still, it's kind of funny to read: "For every 100 females there were 874.2 males."
  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    I'd call them "bi-polar markets." Clayton is even on the "least affordable" list as #98, likely due to high-income folks in high-end homes/condos mixed with more modestly earning students and struggling young professionals spending a large sum of their modest earnings on rent for DeMun/Moorlands/Galleria apartments or a South40 WashU dorm.

    Another "bi-polar market," Hawaiian cities have a large mix of hospitality workers earning low wages yet still needing to find housing in a market appealing more to wealthy Mainland and Japanese transplants looking for a second home or place to retire.