Three Counties

In this post I’m going to delve into a little demographic and economic profile of three counties: Marin County in Northern California, Cook County in Illinois where I live, and Queens Borough in New York. I’ve put pins in the map above to show you where these places are. This post was inspired by a little article I read about how Queens was the most diverse place in the United States while North Dakota, Maine, and Vermont were the least diverse. The information I present here (at the links) was derived from the Census Bureau, the source of the original article that served as a jumping-off point for this post.

Marin County is in the North Bay area of San Francisco. Its county seat is San Raphael. With views of the bay, the ocean, the mountains, and the redwoods (Muir Woods is in Marin), much of Marin is undeveloped. It’s a genuinely idyllic location.

Marin County has a population of about a quarter million people and an area of 828 square miles. 86% of those who live in Marin are white, under 3% are black, 16% are Hispanic, and 6% are Asian, a peculiar demographic characterization used by the Census Bureau which encompasses people as diverse as the Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Koreans, West Asians like Turks or Armenians, and South Asians like Pakistanis or Indians. India on its own has more diversity than Europe.

More than half of the people in Marin have college educations or above, almost 2/3s of the people there are employed, the median household income is more than $91K, and the average household size is 2.14 people.

Cook County is a highly developed county, largely built either on swampland or prairie. It is not scenic. You’d need to drive 1,000 miles to reach ocean or mountains.

More than 5 million people call Cook County home. Its area is 1,635 square miles. It’s a combination of city and suburban with a few parks and vestigial farmland or undeveloped areas. 66% of the people in Cook County are white, 24% are black, 25% are Hispanic, and 6% are Asian.

35% of the people in Cook County have college educations or above, 2/3s of the people here are employed, the median household income is $55K, and the average household size is 2.65 persons.

Queens is the largest of New York’s boroughs in area. Queens was originally riparian but it is now very highly developed and densely populated.

Queens has a population of 2.3 million people and an area of 178 square miles, nearly 40% of which is water. Its land area is 109 square miles. 49% of the people in Queens are white, 21% are black, 18% are Hispanic, and 26% Asian.

30% of the people in Queens have college educations or above, 64% are employed, the median income is $57K, and the average household size is 2.89 persons.

Of the three in demographic terms Marin is more like Maine than it is like Queens, a place of tremendous racial and ethnic diversity. But diversity doesn’t mean representative. Cook County is much more representative in that it looks more like America overall than either Marin or Queens. Marin is, obviously, much, much richer than either Cook or Queens. A quarter of the people in Marin speak a language other than English at home; a third of the people in Cook County do so; an astonishing 56% of the people in Queens speak a language other than English at home. Housing costs in Marin are about twice those in Chicago and 50% more than in Queens. Housing costs exclusive of mortgage costs are about the same in all three places, i.e. the difference among them is in property value.

All three are primarily Democratic in their political affiliations.

12 comments… add one
  • michael reynolds Link

    Well, I’m convinced: Marin sounds great! Sadly in real life it’s boring, with boring people, ugly-ass housing stock, an absurd road system, and surprisingly mediocre restaurants. And did I mention it’s boring? Our tiny local Tiburon paper treats its police blotter column as an occasion for drollery. We are currently enduring a crime wave: someone is stealing money from cars. But only unlocked cars – nothing is ever broken. Can you imagine any self-respecting Chicago criminal self-limiting to unlocked cars?

    Our diversity is along different lines since we don’t really have many minority groups: we divide along yacht club – no yacht club lines. Or Peet’s vs. Starbucks. Prius vs. Mercedes vs. bike. Or Yuppie vs. Hippie, the great conflict that divides Mill Valley and Fairfax and may someday lead to trouble between the forces of medical marijuana, vs. like, just grow your own, man.

    That will be a low-intensity battle.

    Around here it’s not primarily race, it’s all about money and lifestyle choices. If you’re poor and black you live in Marin City. If you’re poor and Latino you live in the canal district of San Rafael. If you have some money (regardless of race) you live in Corte Madera, San Anselmo, Larkspur or Mill Valley. Have money but consider yourself artsy? Sausalito. Like to throw pots, avoid vaccinations and keep a nice compost heap? You’re in Fairfax. A bit more money? Tiburon or Kentfield. Crazy amounts of money? Belvedere or Ross. (Those arrogant bastards!) But money is the metric, not race, no one in Tiburon cares if their neighbor is black or Latino or in my case Indian, because if you’re here you’re guaranteed to be boringly acceptable.

    We bear no resemblance to the larger US.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Gini Coefficient:

    New York = 0.5994 (ranked #1)
    San Francisco = 0.5135
    Marin = 0.5067
    Cook County = 0.4934
    Queens County = 0.4408
    U.S. avg. = 0.4350

    It’s not true that Marin County’s biggest divide is between those deciding on yachts. The average income of the bottom quintile in Marin County is $19,475, when the cost of living in Marin County for a family of four is $99,000. The poverty rate in California is 23.4% when adjusted for cost-of-living, compared with 15.3% in Mississippi.

    All I ask is that those professing to care about income equality start their work at home and not export their problems to the rest of the country.

  • PD:

    I think it’s pretty clear that to some degree income inequality is a large city phenomenon. It’s not entirely clear to me why that is, whether cities foster very rich people, cities foster poor people, cities attract poor people, or some combination but it’s clear that the phenomenon to which you draw attention is a real one.

  • michael reynolds Link


    There’s a difference between a line on a map and the reality on the ground. Of course we have some working people, but as I said they are in two enclaves. An analogy to servant’s quarters would not be far wrong.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the Gini before taxes and transfers, and we do have very high tax rates.

    It would be interesting to see whether it is a function of large cities, which would make sense, or whether other factors also should be considered, such as proximity to coasts.

    As for this whole ‘your’ problem nonsense, PD, we Californians are net payers of federal taxes, so how about we make it a ‘your problem’ thing when we stop having to carry half the red states around like spoiled children?

  • As for this whole ‘your’ problem nonsense, PD, we Californians are net payers of federal taxes, so how about we make it a ‘your problem’ thing when we stop having to carry half the red states around like spoiled children?

    So is Illinois, to a greater extent even than California or New York.

  • Guarneri Link

    Well, setting aside the intellectually dishonest and pathetically substandard analytical notion that a state is the appropriate unit, or that a state’s residents vote monolithically……

    So CA is carrying around Red States like little children, eh? Well as a first cut we should at least use per capita numbers, else pure and size wealth concentration pollutes the numbers.

    So as it turns out, CA receives per capital federal spending of $9000. Here are some bastions of red state mania that exceed CA: CT (11500), HI (13800), the great state of Maryland (15700), or MA (11300). Admittedly, we have spending of 10500-16700 from those rabidly red states of NY, PA, VT, WA, and VA. Oh. Wait, ………..

    Yes, those blue states just can’t get a fair shake. By the way, a component of Fed spending is grants and contracts. Guess who is getting the benefit of that largesse. Just take a guess. And it ain’t Alabama.

    All one learns from the some tripe being pushed here is that there are some concentrations of rich people paying lots of taxes in LA, SF, CHicago or NY metro. Tell me something I didn’t know. And isn’t that the liberals dream?? It tells us nothing useful about “red” or “blue” states.

  • michael reynolds Link

    Argue with the Atlantic, people.

    Bottom line is we take nothing net from the USG. We are net givers vis a vis the rest of the country, and if we’re going to start talking about ‘your problem, my problem,’ we will happily profit by having all you people handle your problems while we handle ours. Let’s see how Alabama and Mississippi and South Carolina like that deal.

    We are a nation, we share problems, we deal with them together.

  • steve Link

    1) PD’s numbers are before transfers. CA, th last time I looked, had more generous safety net programs than Alabama.

    2) As to Drew’s numbers, most state receive between $9000-$11,000 in federal spending. That includes grants and contracts. The larger issue is on the revenue side. The red states are unable to generate taxes adequate to cover the benefits they receive. Since Drew used Alabama, yes, it looks like wealthy folk don’t want to live in Alabama for some reason, however it goes beyond just the very wealthy. They aren’t doing so well at attracting those in the top quintile.

    What they do well, is make sure that the rich folks in their own states don’t pay much in the way of taxes. Finally, since Drew brought up grants, do you want your research money going to MIT, CalTech or the University of Alabama? Football isn’t what will make us competitive in the world economy.


  • sam Link

    Apparently, living in rural America is detrimental to your health: A new divide in American death

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Dave, I agree that population density is related to income inequality, but two of the areas you are comparing have the highest income inequality in the country among high population counties. If people were actually serious about income inequality, the way they were about civil rights or the environment, these areas would be designated for special federal regulation.

  • PD Shaw Link

    SF and NY are not unequal because of a failure of income distribution, its the costs. BTW/ here is the public assistance received in the SF bay area by income quintile;

    Bottom quintile:
    6.7% receive public assistance, $3,627 median received

    Top quintile:
    0.9% receive public assistance, $3,023 median received

  • BTW, that .9% that PD referred to above is probably ADA or other disability-related funding. People in the top quintile receive an amount of the funding set aside for that purpose disproportionate to their numbers, probably because they’re better equipt for seeking it out and accessing it.

Leave a Comment