Demographics--a social science that tracks and learns valuable lessons about the past and future from people's household patterns--is one of residential construction's pillars, a business tool investors, strategists, and other stakeholders could not do without. Demographics and geography analysis--like this piece from APM Research Lab data visualization expert Andi Egbert on domestic migration trends--can be invaluable as decision support, and removal of friction from real estate investment development bets.
Why? By its nature a business bet pitched into an unknown future--home building requires a big upfront investment of capital for a much later return on that investment when a property gains value with vertical construction, and demographics, along with its accompanying science of geography, become predictors of for whom and where that value gain can be greatest.
Especially today, when all that new residential property development, construction, and community-making being done in the United States applies to less than one-half of one percent of the nation's 126 million households.
Who wants to buy or rent one of our industry sector's new units, why, and with what means come down, often, to patterns we can understand to reduce the risk of investing in property development that may not attract customers who'll make investors whole on their outlay. Those characterizations of who, and why, and with what means, and where--all demographic household patterns--are builders' and developers' way of seeing around time's corners.
For instance, demographics is the lens through which we look at critical trends in American mobility, and the Census Bureau--the U.S. government's biggest keeper and distributor of demographic data, recently released a data set that reflects continuation of a mobility decline trend.
Here, an expert on demographics, New Strategist Press editorial director Cheryl Russell, comments on the trend in a way investors, developers, and builders can infer impacts the level of friction between their capital investments and eventual returns. She notes:
Another record low: the percentage of the population aged 1 or older who moved from one house to another in the past 12 months fell to a new low of 10.1 percent between March 2017 and March 2018. Today's mobility rate is less than half the rate of 1960-61.
Now, in 1960-61, the total number of U.S. households was about 53 million, and today that number is more than 126 million. So, it's important to recognize that the total absolute number of "movers" in the earlier period was about 11 million households, and that absolute number in 2018, 10.1 percent of the 126 million total is almost 12 million households. The trend, as you see in the chart below applies to both renters and owners.
Still, there's still a big market of movers in the U.S., it's just that they're harder to detect and engage with in the more than doubled pool of total households. But you can see from the Census table that even the "absolute" number of movers is in decline.
Demographics, like any data point in a builder's or developer's or investor's tool-kit, need to empower, to allow that user an opportunity to improve his or her decision-making, to enlighten opportunity and expose risk, and ultimately, without fail, to be trustworthy.
Demographics, as well, like all data and statistical fact sets and knowledge bases, are prone to misuse--either ham-handed misinterpretation or outright weaponization.
Yesterday, albeit briefly, our digital newsfeed cited statistical data in a third-party published report on "non-citizens" in the United States, which sourced a think-tank's "analysis" of Census Bureau data that aimed to portray America's "non-citizens," many of them recent immigrants in a maliciously objectified light. Non-citizens, the report alleges, are weight on America's welfare system. The published report essentially attacks non-citizens.
By carrying that article, we became partners with "bad players," whose aim is not to empower our audience to improve business outcomes. Instead, the aim is to cause harm to people--many of whom work and perform an essential role on job sites in new home communities across the country--who may be trying to find a path to citizenship in the U.S.
Fortunately for us, a few audience members immediately called us out on our error late yesterday afternoon, and gave us an opportunity to eliminate the published report from our newsfeed. We're grateful to those who spoke up, and we expect that they spoke for many others in our audience.
100% of my great-grandparents--refugees of famine and political oppression in Ireland and pogroms in western Russia--arrived in the United States, via Canada, Ellis Island, and Philadelphia--were "non-citizens." Almost 100% of them came with nothing, and depended, not only on their wit and willingness to work, but on the good-will of others to survive.
Our job at BUILDER is to put demographics data to work to empower builders and builders' partners to improve their business lives, just as we put construction how-to insight to work to help remove friction from your paths to better building and better buildings.
Our job is not to make political judgments about immigrants--either as essential workers or essential one-day customers of builders' new homes and communities. We erred yesterday in having allowed ourselves to become party to a movement of hate, of fear, and of ignorance regarding people whose lives, and contributions, and dreams matter every bit as much as my 16 great-grandparents did a little over a century ago.
We regret having allowed that item into our newsfeed, and will be more vigilant in our daily efforts to ensure that our stories on demographics empower, educate, and train you and your teams to improve your ability to prosper in home building today and tomorrow.