ITHACA, NY – Shifts in demographics may not look like much on paper, but they can tell a story of how a community is evolving, the problems it’s facing, and if the solutions to those problems are working.

The American Census Bureau just released the data from its 2015 American Comunity Survey (ACS). The ACS is a yearly survey of trends in population, demographics and housing, a smaller-scale version of the official census, which is done every 10 years.

Here are a few of the noteworthy demographic shifts in the 2015 ACS. Note that since the ACS uses a smaller sample size, the margin of error is larger than with the standard census.

1 – Overall, diversity is increasing, but the Black population is dropping

2010 census data shows that 82.6 percent of the Tompkins population identified as White. The 2015 ACS estimate puts that number down to 80.2 percent.

Most of this increase seems to come from a growth in the Asian population (from 8.6 percent to 10.8 percent). Meanwhile, however, the population that identifies as Black or African-American has dropped from 4.8 percent to 2.8 percent.

The population of those identifying as Hispanic or Latino saw only a slight uptick, from 4.2 percent to 4.9.

2 – The housing crisis, exemplified

Estimates show that Tompkins County’s population has grown by about 3,500 individuals from 2010 to 2015.

The total number of housing units in the county has grown by only about 600 units however, which means for every six new people in the county, we’ve only built one housing unit.

In addition, the number of family homes dropped by about 500, which may indicate that more housing is being directed at or repurposed for the student market.

3 – Income is up, but not for those who most need it

On the economic front, the county is faring reasonably well. Unemployment is down slightly, keeping with the national average. The educated population has grown — the percentage of population with at least a bachelor’s degree grew by about five percent.

Average household income is up almost $10,000, with the highest income brackets seeing the largest growth: people earning more than $100,000 a year grew by roughly six percent.

However, those on the other end of the economic spectrum haven’t seen much in the way of improvement. Overall, the population living at poverty level has grown by around two percent. This number is slightly difficult to draw any conclusions from, however, as students with no income tend to skew the number somewhat.

Families living at poverty level went up from 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent. For families with children, those numbers shoot way up: from 10.2 percent to 17 percent for families with any children, and from 13.2 percent to 22.9 percent for families with a child under 5 years old.

Most of that shift seems to come from single-mother households. For married families, including those with children, the amount living in poverty went down by two or three percent. For single-mother households, however, 40 percent of those with children live in poverty, up from 29.2 percent in 2010.

Brian Crandall contributed reporting.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.