Recently, a Your View opinion piece, “Housing and poverty in Boone” (Aug. 7), suggested that the Boone economy offers an illusion of prosperity propped up by the toils of its workers. Although the importance of reducing poverty, expanding a stock of affordable housing and making more widely available the necessities of life cannot be overstated, unfortunately the state of Boone’s economy has been mistakenly portrayed as a dystopia using misleading statistics.

The writer suggested the median age of Boone’s non-student population to be 21 years with a median household income of $17,424, a poverty rate of 60 percent, and a home-ownership rate of 21 percent. To individuals who regularly explore these kinds of statistics, the writer’s numbers are obviously mistaken on their face (the median age of the non-student population is that of a typical student?).

Using the same data source the writer consulted, Data USA (, one sees the mistake: Data USA has two Boones! One is the town, which clearly suffers from an over-sampling of students in the data ( allows a deeper dive: 77 percent are under 30 and 87 percent are single), and the other is Watauga County (49 percent under 30 and 59 percent single). If one wants to get a sense of what it is like to live in the Boone area as a non-student, the Watauga County data is far superior (though it too contains students).

Here, we see Watauga has a median age of 31 with a median household income of $41,541, a poverty rate of 28.3 percent (remember, still including students, many of whom are unemployed or employed part-time), and a home-ownership rate of 59 percent. That is, contrary to the writer’s portrayal, the Boone area is not ground zero for the merciless oppression of the proletariat.

I do not mean to suggest that the town should neglect its student residents when considering the state of the Boone economy.

Although students are often transient, their concerns are important while they live here, and some become long-time residents. But we should inform these conversations with appropriate data, and in this case that means not over-sampling students.

I hope I have corrected some of the misinformation of the previous letter, and I encourage those who want to be informed to conduct their own independent research, while also thinking critically about what they find.

— By Daniel Villanova


(3) comments

Quint David

There was a census blog post about this a while back since on-campus students are not counted towards poverty rates, but off-campus students are. Looking at the ACS 5-year 2012-2016 off campus poverty adjustment chart, Boone drops from a horrifying 62% down to a still higher than normal 20% (NC is 15% on avg, nation is 13%), a full 42point drop which might be the highest drop due to students in all of the united states from the chart creates by the census bureau itself.

Note this chart is 2012-2016 so depending on which dates you choose the exact numbers move around.

Frankly I think having a poverty rate higher than state average, or national average, with or without students, means we should be looking into addressing the issue directly.

Daniel - thank you for responding to our article - however, conflating Boone with Watauga county is not only paying a disservice to yourself but the data.

I included data on Boone specifically rather than Watauga county since much of the county outside of city limits consists of wealthy households near and in Blowing Rock, thus skewing much of the data.

Further, you mentioned the data you have cited - keep in mind that Dr. Hidalgo’s data analysis tool is just that, a tool, and it pulls numbers directly from US Census Data. You are mistaking the data provided for Watauga as interchangeable with Boone only.

Lastly - permanent residents are what I examined in my research and students are largely not permanent residents in boone, thus not included in the census data I used. On one more note, the data uses household incomes rather than individual incomes, as well as full-time labor data:

I hope this clarifies the research for you.

Hi Thomas,

We're both trying to bring data to bear on the question of whether people who work in Boone are in bad economic shape. I believe restricting it to solely Boone residents wouldn't be that problematic (it would exclude out-of-town commuters), as long as it doesn't oversample students who don't quite fit the mold we're looking for (they're part-time, unemployed, etc.). I agree using all of Watauga county also has its problems, but it is in my mind a better representation of people who are working in the area...unless...

If your data in fact does not oversample students and refers only to full-time employees, then indeed Boonies are in trouble! But the data in the Data USA tool are also viewable on (Boone is 16000US3707080 and Watauga is 05000US37189), and the additional information there calls into question your claim that these are full-time non-students.

As I noted, 77% are under 30 and 87% are single. With about 5% under 18, that means about 24% are 18 or 19 years old and 48% are 20-29. About 50% have moved since the previous year, 25%pts of which did so from a different county (compare to 14% and 3%pts for the US). Back to Data USA, 37% of households make

It's challenging to come up with something we can call "average" for a college town. We want to take account of students as well as non-students without conflating the two sets of economic outcomes. I believe at present the data are limited in their ability to help us do this. It's great that you are diving into the data and studying these issues. I just find it very hard to believe that these data refer only to full-time non-students. Hopefully you can produce assurances of that from your data sources- good luck on the research!


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