The Boston Fed has created a powerful, time-saving, easy-to-use tool for people interested in the New England region. The tool uses census data to compare the demographic characteristics of lower-income and higher-income areas within a city. It also provides aggregate information for New England states and for the region as a whole.
Ana Patricia Muñoz, Deputy Director in the Regional and Community Outreach Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, answers three questions about the New England City Data Tool.
It's been a few months since the City Data tool has been released. Tell us about how people have been using City Data. What feedback have you received so far?
It's been really rewarding to see how both the data enthusiasts and the data shy have embraced the City Data tool. We've heard from non-profit organizations, think tanks, philanthropic foundations, financial institutions, among others – exactly the kinds of organizations we hoped would benefit. Some are using City Data to get a sense of how their cities and towns are faring. Others use it to paint a picture of some of the challenges in lower-income communities across New England, and to track how these communities have changed over time.
We heard from one Connecticut-based think tank that used it during the federal government shutdown in October 2013 when the Census website was unavailable. A member of the Massachusetts legislature also told us that she would be sharing the tool with her colleagues in the House of Representatives; she said she was impressed with how the data is visualized. And here at the Bank, colleagues have been bringing City Data to meetings to illustrate disparities in incomes or demographic shifts in communities across New England. It's really great to see such a wide range of users.
Tell us a bit about the origins of the tool and the data it uses to provide insights. Isn't it the census data, just provided in visual form?
The City Data tool is much more than the census data. For one thing, it is the only application out there that provides data broken down by lower-income and higher-income neighborhoods. It also provides a one-page snapshot of basic indicators such as household income or population growth from 2000 and 2009 and allows for city-to-city comparisons within each New England state.
One of the more compelling features is its ability to produce results in three different formats: as a raw excel file for the number-crunchers, as one-page city summaries in PDF form, and as an infographic that allows the user to compare a range of cities and towns. It would take someone a significant amount of time to get this data directly from the census website – let alone to then format and display it in an impactful way – so we're glad that the tool is helping to simplify the process.
What are some interesting insights you've gained by using the tool yourself? Anything you didn't know before that surprised you?
One of the goals we had was to bring attention to the disparities between the region's lower-and middle-income (LMI) and middle- and upper-income (MUI) areas. But it isn't until you visualize those differences that you realize the profound challenges that lower-income
The City Summary provides a snapshot of the city’s key variables for easy viewing, downloading in PDF format, and printing. Find summary tables and charts of selected indicators for 2000 and 2009 for LMI and MUI areas in the city and state that interest you.
The City Tables allow you to easily view the data on screen and download Microsoft® Excel® format for several cities at a time and for individual New England states and the region as a whole for LMI and MUI areas.
The Raw Data is also available in Microsoft® Excel® format only. In addition to providing data for LMI and MUI areas, the raw data includes information by four different area income categories (low, moderate, middle, and upper).
The New England City Data includes information for low- and moderate-income (LMI) and middle- and upper-income (MUI) areas in New England cities and towns with more than 4,000 residents as well as aggregate data for the New England states and the region as a whole. The 2000 data is based on Summary File 3 from the 2000 US Census. The 2009 data is taken from the 2005–2009 American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates. We use the 2005–2009 ACS because it is the most recent data set available at the census tract level that uses the same census tract boundaries as the 2000 census. We wanted to use consistent census tracts definitions over time so that changes in the indicators could not be attributed to changes in census tract boundaries. In 2010, census tracts boundaries changed substantially in some cases.
Areas are equated to census tracts. The area income classification is based on the census tract’s median family income relative to the median family income in the metropolitan statistical area (MSA). LMI areas are defined as census tracts that have median family income below 80 percent of the MSA median family income and MUI areas are census tracts with median family income above 80 percent of the MSA’s median family income. For census tracts that are not located in an MSA, the median family income for the tract is compared to the state’s non-MSA median family income as reported in the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) census reports. A similar classification is used by other organizations to determine eligibility for affordable housing programs or Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credit.
In addition to providing data for LMI and MUI areas, the raw data includes information for four different area income categories: low (if the ratio of the tract’s income to the MSA’s income is below 50 percent), moderate (ratio between 50 and 80 percent), middle (ratio between 80 and 120 percent), and upper (ratio above 120 percent). LMI and MUI classifications are from their respective census years (2000 and 2009) except in the raw data, where data from each period using both 2000 and 2009 LMI/MUI classifications is available for direct period-to-period comparisons.
Calculations were done at the census tract level. First, census tracts were matched with their MSA, then each census tract was classified by income category, and finally each tract was matched to a city or town (definitions of cities and towns were taken from the U.S. Bureau of the Census county subdivision classifications). To assign census tracts to county subdivisions, we used the relationship files available through MABLE/Geocorr2K geographic correspondence engine with census 2000 geography. In some cases, particularly when the town’s population is under 4,000, less than 100 percent of the census tract falls within the city/town boundaries. For that reason, the New England City Data includes information only for cities and towns with more than 4,000 residents (the average census tract size).
For each area income category and each indicator (other than population), we calculated the average across census tracts. The population figure is the sum of the populations of all the tracts. For that reason, figures for LMI and MUI areas and data for the city as a whole are not strictly comparable. We also provide indicator averages in LMI and MUI areas at the state level and for New England as a whole. For example, in Hartford, CT, there were 40 LMI tracts and 3 MUI tracts in 2005–2009. The average poverty rate was 34.5 percent across LMI tracts and 12.6 percent across MUI tracts.
American Community Survey (ACS): The ACS is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with reliable and timely demographic, social, economic, and housing data every year. The U.S. Census Bureau releases data from the ACS in the form of both single-year and multiyear estimates. In 2010, the ACS did away with the decennial census long form, choosing instead to collect long-form-type information throughout the decade rather than only once every 10 years. The annual ACS sample is smaller than the long-form sample from the 2000 Census, which included about 18 million housing units. As a result, the ACS needs to combine population or housing data from multiple years to produce reliable numbers for small counties and other local areas. The ACS provides communities with one-, three-, and five-year estimates. The five-year estimates are available for areas as small as census tracts and block groups. Single-year, three-year, and five-year estimates from the ACS are all “period” estimates, that is, they represent data collected over a period of time (as opposed to “point-in-time” estimates, such as the decennial census, that approximate the characteristics of an area on a specific date). To perform comparison analysis over time Census Bureau suggests comparing periods that do not overlap—comparing 2005–2007 estimates with 2008–2010 estimates, for example.
Bachelor's degree graduates or higher: This is the percentage of people, 25 years and older, whose highest degree was at least a Bachelor’s degree.
Census Tract: Census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county that usually have between 2,500 and 8,000 persons. Census tract boundaries are delineated with the intention of being maintained over a long time so that statistical comparisons can be made from census to census.
Educational attainment: Educational attainment, which is measured only for people who are 25 years and older, is the highest level of education that an individual has completed. Educational attainment does not include the level of schooling that an individual is currently attending.
Employment rate: The employment rate is the number of employed people as a force as a percentage of civilian noninstitutional population.
Foreign born: Foreign born refers to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth. This includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, temporary migrants (such as foreign students), humanitarian migrants (such as refugees), and undocumented migrants.
High school graduates or higher: This is the percentage of people, 25 years and older, whose highest degree was at least a high school diploma. People who reported completing the 12th grade but not receiving a diploma are not included.
Hispanic or Latino: People who identify with the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 or American Community Survey questionnaire - "Mexican," "Puerto Rican," or "Cuban" - as well as those who indicate that they are "other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino." Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race.
Homeownership rate: A housing unit is owner occupied if the owner or co-owner lives in the unit, even if the unit is mortgaged or not fully paid for. The homeownership rate is computed by dividing the number of owner-occupied housing units by the overall number of occupied housing units.
Labor force participation rate: The labor force participation rate is the number of people in the labor force as a percentage of civilian noninstitutional population. The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed. Civilian noninstitutional population comprises population 16 years old or older and who are not in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, or nursing homes.
Language spoken at home: The language used by respondents at home is either English only, English and one or more non-English languages, or a non-English language or languages used in place of English.
Mean travel time to work: Travel time to work is the total time in minutes that it usually takes a person to get from home to work each day during the reference week. This includes time spent waiting for public transportation, picking up passengers in car pools, and time spent in other activities related to getting to work.
Median Family Income: Median family income is calculated from income earned by families over the past 12 months. The median divides the income distribution into two equal parts: one-half of the cases falling below the median income and one-half above the median. Therefore, median family income is based on the distribution of the total number of families including those with no income.
Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs): MSAs are geographic entities defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for use by Federal statistical agencies in collecting, tabulating, and publishing Federal statistics. A metro area contains a core urban area with a population of 50,000 or more. Each metro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core.
Native born: Native born refers to anyone born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or a U.S. outlying area, or those born abroad of at least one U.S. citizen parent.
Non-Hispanic Asian: This category comprises individuals who responded "No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" and who reported "Asian" as their sole racial identifier.
Non-Hispanic Black: This category comprises individuals who responded "No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" and who reported "Black" as their sole racial identifier.
Non-Hispanic Other: This category comprises individuals who responded "No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" and who chose “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” “American Indian or Alaska Native,” or “Some Other Race” or “Two or More Races” for their racial identification.
Non-Hispanic White: This category comprises individuals who responded "No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" and who reported "White" as their sole racial identifier.
Percentage of housing-cost-burdened households: This is the percentage of households whose selected monthly housing costs exceed 30% of the household income. For homeowners, selected monthly housing costs are the sum of payments for mortgage, real estate taxes, various insurances, utilities, fuel, mobile home costs, and condominium fees. For renters, monthly housing costs are the gross rent, which is the contract rent plus the estimated average monthly cost of utilities (electricity, gas, and water and sewer) and fuel (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.) if these are the renter’s responsibility to pay.
Percentage who speak English only: This is the percentage of the population five years old and older who speak English only. Respondents who speaks a language other than English at home are asked to assess their ability to speak English on a scale from "very well" to "not very well."
Percentage who speak English less than very well: This is the percentage of the population five years old and older whose native language is not English and who speak English less than very well.
Poverty rate: The poverty rate is the percentage of people who were below the poverty line in the past 12 months. The Census Bureau uses a set of dollar-value thresholds that vary by family size and composition—but not by location—to determine who is living in poverty. These thresholds are updated annually to allow for changes in the cost of living. For example, in 2009, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $21,756. If a family’s total income for the last 12 months is lower than the poverty threshold for that family’s size and composition, then all members of the family are considered to be below the poverty line. If a person lives alone, then the person's income is compared with the poverty threshold for a single person. The total number of people below the poverty line is the sum of people in families and single individuals whose incomes in the last 12 months were below the poverty threshold.
Race: Race is a self-identification data item in which respondents choose the race or races with which they most closely identify.
Real median family income: Real median family income is median family income adjusted for inflation. To calculate 2000 median family income in 2009 dollars, the median family income is multiplied by the consumer price index (CPI-U-RS) adjustment factor of 1.287.
Renter occupied housing: A housing unit is renter occupied if it is occupied by someone other than the owner and the person living in it pays rent for it.
Unemployment rate: The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people as a percentage of the civilian labor force. All civilians 16 years old and over are classified as unemployed if they (1) were neither "at work" nor "with a job but not at work" during the reference week, (2) were actively looking for work during the last four weeks, and (3) were available to accept a job. Also included as unemployed are civilians who did not work at all during the reference week, were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been laid off, and were available for work except for temporary illness.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s City Profiles Data is a public effort of our Regional Outreach and Communications Group. Although this dataset has been constructed with great care, neither the Regional Outreach and Communications Group nor the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s accepts responsibility or liability whatsoever with regards to the information contained in this document. Any decisions or application based on information provided through this document are the sole responsibility of the user.
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