Nov 3, 2020

Being #99

Pocket NinesThe Richmond VA Region just became the 99th largest ‘City’ in the US in 2014.  Apparently, we just passed San Bernardino, CA to break back into the Top 100.  For perspective, NYC is still #1 with 8.3M people and Los Angeles is #2 with 3.8M.

What stands between us and #98 you ask? The thriving metropolis of Boise, Idaho! Beware, Boise … we are coming for you.

Now (as the adage goes), there are three types of lies in the world – lies, darn lies and statistics. So touting census bureau numbers really means very little unless either a) qualified or b) discussed within a certain context.  Simply quoting population statistics without asking specific questions offers little insight.

So … Lets Look Backwards

First, it is no secret that the population that now calls the City home is increasing. See the chart below for a history of Richmond’s population since 1970 (compared to surrounding counties):

Some notes about Richmond’s population:

  • In 1970, there were 249,000+ residents in the City of Richmond
  • In 1980, there were 219,000 residents in the City (loss of 12% in a mere decade)
  • By 2000, there were 197,000 residents (down 20%)
  • By mid 2014, there are nearly 218,000 residents in the city

While the population trend officially reversed course in 2000, my sense is the makeup of the City resident was already in the throws of fundamental change. Both the median age of the population and the average family size was decreasing quickly and its impact is immense.

First, lets look at the size of the household

  • 1970 – 250k residents in the City of Richmond with an average household size of 3.27
  • 2000 – 197k residents in the City of Richmond with an average household size of 2.4
  • 2010 – 210k residents in the City of Richmond with an average household size of 2.36
  • 2014 – 214k residents in the City of Richmond with an average household size of 2.2

If you look at the average household size and compare it to the population during the period, you see something interesting happen:

  • 249,000 residents/3.27 per household = 76,146 households
  • 197,000 residents/2.40 per household = 82,083 households
  • 210,000 residents/2.36 per household = 88,983 households
  • 214,000 residents/2.2 per household = 97,272 households

So, from 1970 to 2014, while Richmond’s population is still down some 35,000 people, the number of households is actually up by over 20,000 (21,126 to be exact)!

What does 20,000 new households imply?

The median income within the City is just shy of $40,000 per household. If you take the median income within the City of Richmond and multiply it by the number of new households in the city, the difference in income generated by the residents is $850,000,000 greater than in 1970, if you assume that we all earned the same now as we did then.

Let me repeat … the collective income earned by residents of the City of Richmond represents effectively $850,000,000 more buying power than City residents had in 1970 when the city was as populated as it had ever been!

And since 2000, this increase is somewhere around $350M!

It should be noted that the $850M number in understated by anywhere from 20-25% due to the fact that the average household income has increased substantially since 1970. If you gross up the $850B number by 20%, you get just over $1 Billion.

$1 billion is a big number…and it is still growing.

What About VCU’s Effect?

Great point … the impact of the substantial VCU student population is unclear.  Census rules are very gray about how to treat a college student and thus, the ability to understand the impact is also gray.  See below:

  • 2013 VCU total enrollment – 31,288
  • 2000 VCU total enrollment – 24,066

In effect, the POTENTIAL skew to the numbers is roughly 7,200 people provided:

  • the census counters were able to track ALL of the students down
  • AND they ALL answered the census as Richmond residents
  • AND they are not already Richmond residents
  • AND they are not employed in some fashion (as many grad students are)

I think the answer is that there is no concrete way to quantify the exact impact other than to say that the population of VCU does not account for all of the difference. While it is well known that many of VCU’s students live off-campus, the trend is to occupy apartments in increasing densities to save money…which also tends to minimize the skew.

The bottom line is 20,000 new households were created from the period of 1970 to 2014 and the VCU enrollment is not the sole source of the increase.


The numbers behind the numbers usually tell the real story and the countable increase in the number of residents in the city, while important, does not tell us what we really need to know.  The 20,000 new households since 1970 equates to hundreds of millions of income being earned by City residents…and it began to shift in earnest in the early 2000’s.

Those who are close to the City and the daily comings and goings see this. RVA 2014 is far different from RVA 2000 and almost unrecognizable from the darkest days of the 1980’s. The population trends which are now becoming recognizable are turning heads and opening eyes of those outside of Richmond in greater and greater numbers. In short order, expect even more changes to occur bringing more retail and entrepreneurial ventures, increasingly diverse entertainment options and festivals back to the City. As the ballpark issue (hopefully) becomes resolved and the neighborhoods of both Manchester and Scott’s Addition continue to become redeveloped, Richmond of 2020 and beyond will look more vibrant, more engaging and far healthier than the version we know today in 2014.

It is a good time to take a new look at the city…