Albemarle County’s stated mission is to enhance the well-being and quality of life for all community members through the provision of the highest level of public service consistent with the prudent use of public funds.
The Albemarle County Equity Profile analyzes various conditions across demographic groups and geographic areas that contribute to well-being. This online version provides some key results from the full Equity Profile. For further analysis, reporting, and data sources, please see the report.
Demographic History of Albemarle County
Albemarle County’s population has witnessed significant demographic shifts with regard to race/ethnicity over time, as Figure 1 shows. Changing demographics indicate fluctuating conditions of equity for particular populations. Prior to European settlement, Native Americans inhabited Central Virginia for over 10,000 years and Monacan people have inhabited the area for at least 1,000 years.1 Population statistics tracked by the U.S. government do not capture these facts, contributing to the systemic erasure of Native peoples.
Figure 1: White Population and Populations of Color in Albemarle County
African Americans (free and enslaved) constituted the majority of Albemarle’s population during the dominance of chattel slavery prior to the American Civil War and into the 1800s. Black men and women established separate rural communities throughout the County, such as Proffitt. However, with the introduction of railroads, a Jim Crow-era segregationist government, and continued inequity, many African-American residents in Albemarle County migrated away from the region.
Since that time, Albemarle’s population has been majority white. However, during the last two decades, the County has been growing more diverse. As of 2019, nearly a quarter of Albemarle’s community members are people of color. African-American people constitute the largest minority group (Figure 2), comprising nearly half of the non-white population and nine percent of the overall population. Among census-defined racial categories, Asian people make up 29 percent of the non-white population (five percent of the overall population), while multiracial residents make up another 17 percent of the populations of color (3 percent overall). Latinx and Hispanic people, not shown in Figure 2, as Hispanic ethnicity may intersect with each of the racial categories captured by the census, constitute six percent of the overall Albemarle population in 2019.
Figure 2: Breakdown of Albemarle County’s Populations of Color, 2019
The Human Development Index
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a metric that assesses the distribution of well-being and equity along three axes: health, access to knowledge, and living standards. As an alternative to money metrics like GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the HDI measures basic indicators of human well-being, going beyond simply measuring income or economic growth.
In addition to illuminating facets of well-being that cannot be measured through economic metrics, the HDI is a cross-cutting index that reflects the interconnectedness of many different sectors: health, education, housing, and more. Human well-being is influenced by a multiplicity of factors that cannot be isolated from one another, and the HDI captures many of these factors at once. Further, instead of simply offering more data on ongoing problems (i.e., poverty, health issues), the HDI focuses on measuring the impact of ongoing efforts to resolve these problems. By looking at the full spectrum of people in our community, the HDI also promotes an inclusive view in which all of us can see ourselves. This unique approach moves away from prior methods that focus primarily on those living in poverty, which may inadvertently reinforce an us-and-them outlook.
This report employs an adapted version of the HDI, the American Human Development Index (AHDI), which was created by Measure of America of the Social Science Research Council to be estimable at sub-national geographic levels such as states and counties, as well as among population sub-groups by demographics, including race and gender. The AHDI utilizes the same components of the HDI — health, access to knowledge, and living standards — but adapts them to a local American context, increasing their relevance within the conditions of an affluent democracy.
AHDI in Albemarle County
In terms of scoring, the AHDI scores each component of the measure – health, access to knowledge, and living standards – on a 0-10 scale and then averages those components to produce a single composite score for each geography.
As Table 1 shows, Albemarle County rates quite highly compared to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the whole of the United States, and to surrounding localities that serve as comparative benchmarks. The County’s score of 7.42 on the AHDI suggests that, on average, residents of Albemarle County experience a better quality of life than residents in nearly all of the relevant benchmark geographies.
Table 1: Albemarle County AHDI Comparison Across Benchmark Geographies
However, when calculating AHDI scores by census tract, a proxy for neighborhood, we find quite large disparities in overall scores across the county.2 For example, the tract containing Oak Hill and Southwood has an AHDI score below 5, while tracts containing North Garden and Ivy Garden score near the top of the index scale with scores above 9. The discrepancies in scores between neighborhoods suggests substantial differences in residents’ connections to the resources that expand choices, opportunities, and access across the County.
Figure 3: Composite AHDI by Census Tracts in Albemarle County
Figure 4: AHDI and Components by Census Tracts in Albemarle County
Health: Life Expectancy
The primary health-related measure in the AHDI is life expectancy at birth, that is, the average number of years a baby born today is expected to live given current mortality patterns.
The most recent data available in the County Health Rankings Report estimate Albemarle County’s average life expectancy to be 83 years of age. However, there are major demographic and geographic disparities in life expectancy across Albemarle County (Figure 5). Black residents in the County have a substantially lower life expectancy at birth (77.8 years) compared to white residents (83.4 years). While the life expectancy for Hispanic and Asian community members looks quite high, the much smaller populations on which these estimates are based mean we are less certain about these values. Thus, Figure 8 provides not just the life expectancies, but the range of possible values suggested by the available data. The differences between Black residents and each of the other racially disaggregated groups, however, are stark. Put simply, Black residents can expect to live 5.6 fewer years than their white neighbors.
Figure 5: Life Expectancy at Birth by Race in Albemarle County
Geographically, we can also see that not every area in the County experiences a similarly high life expectancy (Figure 6). There is a maximum disparity of 11.6 years across neighborhoods between North Garden, which enjoys the longest life expectancy, and the Oak Hill/Old Lynchburg Road area, which experiences the shortest. Additionally, the map reveals lower life expectancy rates in the urban ring along the edge of the Charlottesville city limits and in some of the rural areas of Albemarle County in particular. The available data illustrates a clear pattern of disparate health outcomes by race and place (tract) in Albemarle County.
Figure 6: Life Expectancy at Birth by Census Tracts in Albemarle County
Access to Knowledge: Degree Attainment
Degree attainment for those community members over 25 years of age is a key part of the measure of the Access to Knowledge dimension in the AHDI. Residents of Albemarle County have relatively high levels of formal education. About 3 in 5 adults have a bachelor’s degree, while fewer than 1 in 20 residents do not have a high school diploma.
Access to education is not distributed equally, however. Figure 7 reveals significant variation in educational attainment by race and ethnicity across the County. The figure is centered around bachelor degree attainment, to make comparisons of this key educational level readily visible. Only 19 percent of Black residents age 25 or more, about 1 in 5, and 32 percent of Hispanic or Latinx residents age 25 or more, about 1 in 3, have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 58 percent of white residents. At the same time, 16 percent of Black residents and nearly a quarter of Hispanic residents do not have a high school diploma, compared to fewer than 7 percent of white residents. These figures suggest current systems of public and higher education are disproportionately failing students of color, and these educational failures have institutional roots in the racialized legacies of American schools.