© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Data Tool Shows Socioeconomic Inequities Around Hampton Roads

The residential population of downtown Norfolk has tripled in the last decade as the pandemic reduced the commuter workforce. (Photo by C. Watts via Flickr)
The residential population of downtown Norfolk has tripled in the last decade as the pandemic reduced the commuter workforce. (Photo by C. Watts via Flickr)

Several Hampton Roads cities have higher rates of poverty, unemployment and housing insecurity than Virginia on average.

That’s according to new data dashboards that highlight social inequities across the state.

Virginia’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer released the  online tool. It aggregates local and federal data about income, educational attainment, broadband access, food security and other socioeconomic factors.

Users can view data from each of the commonwealth’s 133 localities and compare it to statewide averages and across racial lines.

The tool shows access to job opportunities and basic resources in several Hampton Roads cities lags behind the rest of the state and differs among races. 

For example, while Virginia’s average poverty rate is 10.6%, it’s at least 15% in Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News and Portsmouth.

In Norfolk — where the poverty rate is nearly 19% — the average annual income of white people is double that of Black residents.

There are also stark disparities in housing security.

Statewide, 12.5% of people are severely cost-burdened, meaning they pay over 50% of their income on housing. But in Portsmouth, that rate is nearly 17%, and it’s 21% in Norfolk.

Although Norfolk’s population is about 43% white and 41% Black, 7,660 cost-burdened renters in the city are Black while 4,110 are white.

“What that says about the region is we’ve yet to deal honestly with our issues of structural racism, discrimination, suppression, oppression, which create inequities,” said Eric Claville, Director of the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University.

Claville noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated socioeconomic inequities. Children without internet access have had a harder time learning remotely. Many people who have lost jobs have struggled to pay for food, make rent and keep up with other bills.

High unemployment due to the pandemic continues to impact several Hampton Roads cities more than others.

While Virginia’s labor force unemployment rate is 5.7%, Portsmouth’s is nearly 10%, Norfolk’s is 8.4% and Hampton’s is 8%, according to the data dashboards. 

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake’s labor force, by comparison, has recovered more quickly from the pandemic. Virginia Beach’s unemployment rate is 5.4% and Chesapeake’s is 5.6% — both below state averages.

“The realities of our pandemic have really brought to light some issues that folks were unaware of or were able to ignore,” said Jonathan Zur, President of the Virginia Center For Inclusive Communities. “These are things that have been reinforced year after year, decade after decade in our society.”

Officials say finding local-level data on socioeconomic and racial disparities can be difficult because they come from different sources. The hope is that the dashboards will make the data more visible and help state and local officials address long-standing structural inequities.

“These dashboards are the first of their kind in the nation,” said Janice Underwood, the Virginia’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. “This is an important first step in addressing equity across the commonwealth.”

One of the dashboards, called  “Equity-in-Action,” provides data on Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the distribution of resources and services to different localities. The separate  “Equity-at-Glance” dashboard focuses on socioeconomic disparities. 

Officials say 20 state agencies provided data for the dashboards. The commonwealth developed the tool in response to the General Assembly’s declaration in February that racism is a public health crisis.

Underwood, a former Old Dominion University faculty member, said staff will continue to update the data dashboards and will add more topic areas, including job diversity and criminal justice metrics.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.