Census 2020 Data Underscores Grim Economics in VI

Census 2020 USVI (Shutterstock photo)

Incomes in the U.S. Virgin Islands are lagging way behind stateside averages while unemployment and poverty levels are soaring.

That is just one of a multitude of demographic takeaways from the 2020 Census. The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released numerous tables of data based on an analysis of information gathered in the house-to-house census surveys taken two years ago, regarding such things as race, education, employment and income.

Among the highlights:

· The median household income in the Virgin Islands was $40,408, compared with the national median income of $67,521.
· The unemployment rate in the territory is 9.7 percent based on self-reporting by people surveyed. The national rate, as of Thursday, was 3.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
· Information gathered by census-takers from V.I. households determined that 24.6 percent of people in the Virgin Islands, or almost one-fourth of the population, do not have any type of health insurance. Nationally, that number is much less than half what it is in the Virgin Islands, just 9.7 percent, according to a National Health Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing 2020 statistics.

The demographic information comes a year after the Census Bureau released the 2020 population figures for the territory, showing a population of 87,146, which meant a decrease of 18 percent since the 2010 census. But it has taken time to delve through a trove of other information and compile statistics from it.

It is not finished yet. The bureau has announced that it will release more of the demographic figures in July 2023.

Thursday’s release of data was for each of the small island territories — the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Similar demographic information is gathered for Puerto Rico and for each state through a statistically representative survey called the American Community Survey, rather than during the 10-year census.

The bureau warned against making comparisons to 2010 figures in some of the categories. For instance, the section including racial and ethnic breakdowns of population numbers was phrased differently in the 2020 Census from how it was in 2010, so direct comparisons are not possible.

Racial/Ethnic Groupings

The variety of categories also allowed for some individuals to be counted in more than one racial and/or ethnic group. If you add up each of the categories, they total more than 87,146.

In the 2020 count, 62,183 people self-identified as Black or African American, alone. The number of people identifying as Black or African American plus “another” was 67,769.

The second largest racial or ethnic group was whites; 11,584 people identified as white alone, and 13,143 people identified as white plus another race.

There was also a category marked multiracial. The census count for that category was 6,569.

Further blurring the lines, 16,075 people identified as Hispanic or Latino of any race, with 7,759 of those identifying with Puerto Rican lineage and 5,442 identifying as Dominican.  Another 2,756 people identified as U.S. Virgin Islander, either alone or in combination; and 5,478 people identified as “some other race.”

Income Levels

The report did compare income levels in 2010 and 2020, with the disturbing result that it showed the median income per household actually declined over the 10 years, from $44,499 in 2010 to just $40,408.

A household income is defined by the bureau as the income of the householder (or head of household) plus that of all others in the household over the age of 15 if they have income.

The median in any given set of statistics is the number that represents the middle amount within a series of numbers. So, an equal number of households had an income above $40,408, while the other half had an income below $40,408.

Researchers generally see a “median” as more reliable than a “mean” (or “average”) in reflecting a situation, because an average, or mean, can be skewed by an unusually high or low number in the set of numbers.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly given the income drop, the percentage of families living in poverty increased somewhat, from 18.3 percent of the population in 2010 to 18.6 percent in 2020.

(Technically, although the figures are from the 2010 and 2020 censuses, as a practical matter they were based on incomes from the most previous full year before each census was taken, that is, 2009 and 2019.)

The bureau counted 39,642 households in the territory. Of those, 2,740 (6.9 percent) had income of less than $2,500 annually. Just 16.3 percent, or 6,433 households, had six-figure incomes. At the upper end of the scale, just under 10 percent of households had annual incomes of $125,000 or more.


The bureau counted 69,821 people over the age of 16 living in households. Of those, 39,416 or 56.5 percent were in the civilian labor force, with 261, or 0.4 percent in the Armed Forces.

The civilian workforce was divided into private wage and salary workers, 62.9 percent; government workers, 26.3 percent, and self-employed, 10.8 percent.

The types of jobs they held were:

· Management, business, science and arts, 31 percent
· Service occupations, 22.6 percent
· Sales and office work, 20.4 percent
· Natural resources, construction, maintenance, 15.2 percent
· Production, transportation and more, 10.9 percent

The vast majority of the workforce (70.6 percent) commutes to the job, alone, via car, truck, or private bus or van. Another 12.3 percent carpool.

Others arrive at their jobs via water taxi, public bus, taxi, motorcycle, bike, plane or seaplane. Just 3.7 percent walk in. And 4.7 percent work from home.

The mean travel time for commuters is 17.7 minutes.


One of the more positive findings in the 2020 Census data is an improvement in the use of technology.

In 2013, when the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands conducted a Virgin Islands community survey, they found that a little more than half of V.I. households (23,796 out of 42,371) had a working computer. And just 52 percent had internet access.

In the 2020 Census, expanding the computer ownership category to include such things as smartphones and tablets, 91.1 percent of households had at least one such device, and 79.2 percent of households had a broadband internet subscription. (Numbers were similar in other small territories.)

The Eastern Caribbean Center partners with the U.S. Census Bureau to do the fieldwork for the census. Staff at the St. Thomas office were unable to offer comment on the demographics Thursday. They said they did not have any advance notice of the release of the data and had not reviewed it yet.