Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Regional Changes in Group Quarter Populations: 1970 to 2010

The Census Bureau qualifies where you live as either a housing unit, or as something called a group quarter. Group Quarters (GQ) are places where people live or stay, in a group living arrangement, which is owned or managed by an entity or organization providing housing and/or services for the residents. This is not a typical household-type living arrangement. These services  may  include custodial or medical care as well as other types of assistance, and residency is commonly restricted to those receiving these services. People living in group quarters are usually not related to each other.

For our region, the group quarters population has ebbed and flowed, and in the end, over the last 40 years, it has not actually changed a lot in terms of the total numbers of people living in these facilities. Slightly less than 14,776 people lived in GQs in the Herkimer-Oneida County region in 1970; that's almost the same number as live in GQs today. Click on the chart below to enlarge it.

So while the number of people in GQs seems to not have changed much, that doesn't mean that the characteristics of the group quarters population has remained the same. Group quarters can be classified into two large categories: Institutionalize GQs, and Non-Institutionalized GQs. 

  • Institutionalized GQs include facilities for people under formally authorized, supervised care or custody at the time of interview, such as correctional facilities, nursing facilities/skilled nursing facilities, in-patient hospice facilities, mental (psychiatric) hospitals, group homes for juveniles, and residential treatment centers for juveniles.
  • Non-institutionalized GQs are facilities that are not classified as institutional group quarters, such as college/university housing, group homes intended for adult, residential  treatment facilities for adults, workers’ group living quarters and Job Corps centers, and religious group quarters.

The chart below shows how each of these components of GQs has changed over time. Click to enlarge it.

These two components have seen very different changes over the last 40 years. The light green area represents the Institutionalized GQ population for the region. While it dropped significantly from 1970 to 1980, it then began climbing through the year 2000; in the last decade it then saw another substantial drop. In contrast, the Non-Institutional GQ population, represented by the orange bars, has seen a pretty steady rise since the 1970s in the region.

What might the differences in these changes be attributed to? Further analysis of the GQs populations suggest several things have impacted both components.

In terms of the Institutionalized GQ population, changes in mental health laws in the 1970s resulted in the release of large numbers of mental health patients from institutional care, thus driving down the numbers for Institutional GQs between 1970 and 1980. Subsequent to that there was a large growth in incarcerated persons, and hence the growth between 1980 and 2000 can partly be attributed to rising prison and jail populations. By around 2000, there was also the impact of the "baby boom" generation as people in that generation began to entire a phase of life where institutional care became needed in some cases. Interestingly, by 2010 baby boomers indeed are beginning to be felt in terms of long term care facilities such as nursing homes. At the same time however, New York State has begun reducing its prison population and as a result the region experienced the closure of correctional facilities. This conflicting push-pull (the growth of baby boomer need for facility access, and the reduction of correctional facilities) seems to have resulted in a temporary lull in institutional demand overall in the last decade.

In contrast, the growth of Non-Institutional GQ populations is quite straight forward. Based on census data, college dormitory populations have more than doubled in the last 40 years clearly driving the steady growth of this component. Between 1970 and 2010, college dormitory populations grew by more than 130%. 

Below you can see how nursing home populations have risen  (impacting Institutionalized GQ numbers) and how dormitory populations have grown (impacting Non-Institutionalized GQ numbers).

So while the overall regional GQ population is still very similar to what it was in 1970, its components, and the underlying parts of those components, have changed considerably.