Geographic analysis: Data sources and indexes
Local data used to inform decision-making are derived from many sources, from U.S. Census Bureau survey data to police department and school district information.
This page provides examples of publicly available data sources that can be used to assess community health as well as index measures that combine community indicators into composite scores.
Community-level data sources
Data used to measure the health of a neighborhood, construct indexes and assess community needs are available from a variety of sources. Numerous organizations — including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Center for Education Statistics — provide data on community indicators at the state, region, county, congressional district, metropolitan area or school-district level. Some sources provide data for ZIP codes or census tracts, which tend to span smaller geographies and have greater relevance to communities and neighborhoods.
The following examples provide information at the ZIP code and census tract level:
- American FactFinder distributes data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau (including data from the American Community Survey, American Housing Survey and Economic Census) on an array of indicators including population and household demographics, employment and income, business patterns, housing and education. Many measures are available at multiple levels of geography across several years.
- Census Explorer is an interactive website that allows users to generate maps at the state, county or census tract level using a short list of measures available from the U.S. Census Bureau. The tool is an example of how geographic information systems and user-friendly analytical tools are becoming readily accessible to the general public.
- Internal Revenue Service provides ZIP code data for each state on income, wages, salaries, exemptions and interest. The Statistics of Income data can be used to analyze tax policy and revenue and estimate the impact of tax law changes.
- The Opportunity Project, a White House initiative, makes thousands of federal and local data sources open and accessible. It calls on the public to develop new tools, share additional data sources and deepen engagement with communities through the use of data.
Several indices consolidate multiple community and economic indicators into a single score. Examples of indices that have been created include:
- The Child Opportunity Index from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and Brandeis University provides a measure of relative opportunity across metropolitan areas and is calculated based on indicators of educational opportunity, health and environmental opportunity, and social and economic opportunity.
- The Child Well-Being Index from the Foundation for Child Development analyzes 28 indicators to provide a historical look at how children’s well-being has improved or deteriorated over time.
- The Distressed Communities Index from the Economic Innovation Group analyzes the dimensions of basic community well-being to shed light on variation in economic well-being and opportunity across the country, primarily using data from the American Community Survey.
- The Opportunity Index from Measure of America and Opportunity Nation includes indicators on three dimensions (economy, education and community) to create a snapshot of opportunity at state and county levels.
- The Social Vulnerability Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses U.S. census tract data to help quantify a community’s resilience in preparing for hazards or recovering from a disaster and to effectively allocate resources.
- The New Urban Crisis Index uses data on income, education, housing and employment to create a composite measure of inequality, economic segregation and housing unaffordability across all U.S. counties.
Explore Geographic analysis: Applications and frameworks to learn how some programs and foundations are using community-level data. Or explore the main community data page to learn more about the role of community data on child safety and family well-being.