Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

GDP v GNH: The Economist Debates

There's an interesting debate over at The Economist over replacing GDP as a measure of progress with something else, such as a Gross National Happiness index.

You may be interested in watching the debate, seeing the arguments, or voting on the outcome.

Click here for more information.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gapminder Updates Web Site

Here's a quick update from

We have given Gapminder's web site a major overhaul. In the process we added many new, helpful functions to make it easier to use Gapminder.

The news include better navigation, Hans Rosling's twitter, an easier way to find and download data and a new page especially for teachers.

The biggest improvement is the new Gapminder World. We have made it easier to find interesting stories in the vast amount of data. To use, simply click the “Open graph menu” and choose from the list of stories.

And yes, everything now looks much better!

Gapminder is a non-profit foundation based in Stockholm, Sweden. We are promoting sustainable global development and the achieve- ment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

NAPC Conference, Day Two

Last night at the NAPC conference we had a nice reception where Irv Katz, from the National Human Services Assembly, addressed us on some of the critical issues they're addressing -- you can see what's on their policy agenda here: National Assembly

After a series of participant introductions this morning (fascinating work being done around the country and Canada by members), the focus turned to where we are now economically. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute addressed us.

Heidi -- "The Recession is Over -- but over for whom?"

In past recessions, quick bounce-back in employment after the recession -- until the last two recessions. In early  1990s, "jobless recovery" term was coined. In early 2000s, recession ended with a 'job-loss recovery." That's what we're facing now -- jobless (or perhaps job-loss) recovery. So the key benchmark isn't GDP growth but unemployment rate -- now 9.7 nationally, will likely continue to rise through the end of thisyear and will reach its peak then --we're not going to feel like a recovery util next year.

Now we're in the calm after the storm, looking at the damage in the labor market. We've lost over 8 million jobs, but population rising -- so we need to add on the order of 100,000 jobs a month just to keep unemployment stable. Overall, we're really down 11 million jobs (job losses + labor market growth) to get to pre-recession unemployment levels.

Layoffs are now down to pre-recession levels -- that's good. But hiring has not picked up -- that's bad. In fact, the peak of the business cycle in 2007 is still worse than the pre-recession late 1990s -- we hit this current recession in the worst shape with the least cushion of any prior recession (post-Depression).

After recession of the 1990s was over, had year and a half of increasing unemployment before it started to improve. The same thing in the early 2000s. We're seeing the same thing now. (And that's not counting the discouraged workers!)

In fact, when we add in the unemployed, involuntary part-time, and marginally employed workers, we're up to 17 percent underemployment -- up from around 7 in 2000. Largest increase isn't in discouraged workers  (which is still a big increase) but in involuntary part-timers. "The huge involuntary part-time is a threat to reducing unemployment." Employers who cut hours, not workers, to cut costs, means that employers can increase production by adding hours, not workers, further delaying any new hiring. And when jobs do pick up, 3 million more people will enter into the labor market if the labor market participation returns to normal -- meaning job growth won't move the dial on unemployment rate for a while.

The overall unemployment rate masks other issues. Men have been harder hit than women in the recession. Racial and ethnic minorities hit harder than whites. People with less education getting hit harder too. Young workers hit much harder -- nearly 20 percent of 16 to 24 unemployed. Older workers, on the other hand, have been slammed on the wealth  front (housing value, retirement funds), while younger workers are slammed in the labor market.

In labor market, the chart seems to show that best case scenario is older white college-educated woman -- hardest hit is young black male without high school education.

This summer people leaving school now face the worst labor market in 70 years. (Sucks to be born in the 80's, and not just because of the music and hair!) We're also looking at a 8-10 year swath of long-term unemployment for younger people. Without summer jobs, what are young people going to do with their time? School enrollment going up, but not matching the growth in non-labor market participation. Growth in Nene's -- not enrolled, not employed.

Seeing increased labor market participation among older workers -- because of attack on wealth, people not retiring. Stock market improvement might help unemployment rate.

Long-term unemployment recession -- shattering every record for length of unemployment. We haven't reached the peak of unemployment in the 80s recession, but the length of unemployment is unprecedented. Number of job seekers per  job opening is huge -- 5.5 people per job. So extending unemployment insurance doesn't keep people from taking jobs -- there aren't jobs for them to take.

"The worst recession since the Great Depression? Absolutely."

The recession started out super-mild, until Lehman Brothers -- the collapse of the financial market accelerated the recession to unbelievable levels -- at one point losing 700,000 jobs a month. Also twice as many people in the country now since the Great Depression -- principle of large numbers say the impacts in places with the large numbers affected has an exponential effect.

What's in store? We do not have to settle for permanently high unemployment. But the short and medium term are going to be ugly. Recovery will take a long time. To fill the 11 million jobs gap, we would need 1 million new jobs a month to fill it in 1 year. To fill in 5 years, we would need nearly 300,000 jobs a month (every month!) The latest "really good news" had 167,000 new jobs in a month. Projections: 10.1 unemployment averaged this year, 9.5 next year, 8 in 2012, 2013 6.3 percent unemployment -- still worse than the worst year of the early 2000s recession.

Again, communities are facing long-term ugly unemployment and it could take much longer to fill the jobs gap. Projections still based on people behaving the same way they did before the recession -- but people aren't behaving the same way, and not retiring when projected because they can't afford to. And social security is in trouble.

Clear relationship between unemployment rates and family income. Real family middle income has been hammered. The 2000s recovery never got family income back to pre-recession levels, and now with this recession even in 2015 the typical family income will not get back to where it was at the low point of the early 2000s recession, let alone as high as it was in the pre-2000s recession time. There's no upward pressure on wage growth, and won't be for a while.

Overall poverty rate around 15 percent -- not dropping down to turn-of-the century rates by 2015. And  for kids it's worse, and for racial and ethnic minorities worse -- about 1/3 black poverty rate now, perhaps down to 24 percent in 2015.

So what should be done? Communities are going to be suffering a lot for at least the next five years -- things will get better over time. National level answer? Heidi says it's more stimulus dollars, and much more. Real, measurable GDP change with the Recovery Act -- estimated 2.5 million more job losses without it, is on track to reach 3-4 million jobs, just wasn't on the right scope of this crisis. Really need something on the scope of $1.5 trillion.

Can we afford it? What about the deficit? 2 time horizons: short-term and long-term. A key way to bring the deficit down is to deficit-spend to create jobs. What has added to the deficit? Increases in the deficit: Bank bailout: $184 billion (TARP) about 15 percent increase in deficit. 15 percent ($181 billion) is stimulus. $841 billion is the recession -- high unemployment, low income, business loss, resulting in fewer taxes paid. So deficit-spend to create taxpayers is the long-term solution to deal with the deficit, according to Heidi Shierholz.

We need to bail out state and local governments. The most job bang for the buck is state fiscal relief. Because states must balance the budget, they have to either raise taxes or cut services, and both of them drain the economy. National stimulus packages would otherwise just fight against "50 Herbert Hoovers" at the state level counterbalancing economic stimulus efforts with economic drains.

"This recession, make no mistake, was the bursting of the housing bubble -- the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble is what creates something like this." And the roots of the problems go back through multiple political administrations.

(Then we got talking about the intersection of economics and politics, and folks got really, really depressed. I won't even go there.)

Heidi's presentation will be available at For those of us at the conference, the presentation challenges us to re-examine what community planning and community-based work looks like. For those who like economic indicators, check out the charts in Heidi's presentation and think about the economic indicators you might be using in your community to monitor these changes -- and how you might best tell the story of the unprecedented impacts of this recession.

ETA: Here's Heidi's presentation: click here

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NAPC Conference, Day One: CI-PM Integration

I'm at the NAPC Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. Our opening pre-conference session features Allen Lomax from the Community Indicators Consortium talking about their project to integrate community indicators and government performance measures. I'll be participating with a NAPC Forward project to increase the use of social media among community planning agencies, so you'll see more if you follow @N_A_P_C on Twitter (you can follow me, too, at @BenWarner.) You'll see more about the conference also on the NAPC blog and the NAPC YouTube channel.

Allen's presentation is now online at -- excellent examples of communities  trying to engage the community and government around data and the policy implications of using good, shared information. The Community Indicators Consortium is about to put out a call for more Real Stories -- case studies of integration efforts, successful or not -- so watch for that.

The conversation got really interesting, as multiple folk shared their initiatives in their local communities -- the topic appeared to strongly resonate with NAPC members who have been trying to bring community indicators together with performance measures and have important lessons to share. This is a critical connection for this conversation, and I hope more NAPC members get involved in helping this project along.

In other news, you can follow live tweeting of the conference through the #NAPC10 hashtag.


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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I'm having some fun playing with, a tool that pulls state data sets (many, but not all, from and allows you to throw data sets together to find interesting information and stories.

Take births divided by population and you get a list of the Most Reproductive States (not surprisingly, Utah leads the pack, but Texas and Alaska are right on their heels.) Select Alcohol consumption/Binge Drinkers and multiply that by the Firearm death rate per 100,000 and you have the Boozin' & Shootin' Index -- D.C. edges out Nevada and Alaska (Utah's way at the bottom for this one!)

You can get your results in a map or a table, and you can suggest additional data sets you think might be useful. 

Have some fun with the site, and think about how your own community indicators project might benefit from this kind of tool.

Hat tip: DataPoints blog via @Kidsdata

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Job Openings: IPUMS

Dear IPUMS Users,

I am writing to pass on information about job openings at the Minnesota Population Center.

We are recruiting a post-doctoral associate to play an important role in the improvement and expansion of IPUMS-USA data and internal U.S. Census Bureau data files, starting in fall 2010. MPC postdocs are expected to spend 25% of their effort working on their own research agenda, and the associate's access to restricted Census Bureau data will open up exciting research and publication opportunities.

The position announcement is attached and can also be found at our website ( ).

We will be at the upcoming PAA annual meeting (exhibit #204) to answer any questions you might have.

We also have open positions for software developers:

Please redistribute this message to any researchers who might be interested.


Steve Ruggles
Regents Professor
Director, Minnesota Population Center
Principal Investigator, IPUMS Projects
University of Minnesota

IPUMS Projects
Minnesota Population Center
University of Minnesota

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Friday, April 9, 2010

New Economic Measures

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article in its April 8 edition called "New Ways to Read Economy: Experts Scour Oddball Data to Help See Trends Before Official Information Is Available." (The link will be available for non-paid subscribers for 7 days only).

I'm quoted in it, but that's not why you should read the article. The point of the piece is that, in the changing/turbulent/volatile economic times we're in, traditional economic measures might be too slow (or antiquated) to tell us what we need to know. So many of us are turning to new data sources that are quicker, localized, and more responsive.

The article begins:

When the city's top economist needs a rough prediction of sales tax revenues, he watches the number of subway passengers emerging from the Powell Street Station on Saturdays.

Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller's Office, said he could wait six months for California to release the detailed sales-tax data he needs for city revenue projections. But it's quicker to look at passenger tallies from the station closest to the Union Square shopping district, which generates roughly 10% of the city's sales-tax revenue. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District releases the data within three days, he said: "Why should I have to wait?"

Mr. Egan is among a growing number of economists and urban planners who scour for economic clues in unconventional urban data—oddball measures of how people are moving, spending and working.

Broadway ticket sales are a favorite indicator for the chief economist of the New York City Economic Development Corp., Francesco Brindisi. He says they are a good gauge of city tourism.

In Jacksonville, Fla., community planner Ben Warner keeps tabs on calls to the city's 2-1-1 hotline for social services. Since late 2008, he has seen spikes in calls for help with food, housing, utilities payments and suicide prevention. It is "direct, real-time monitoring of the economic and social situation," he said.

I'm a big fan of nontraditional indicators -- they force us to look at our communities through fresh eyes.

If you had been called by the reporter (her name is Cari Tuna, and I found her a delightful professional to work with!), what other examples could you have provided?

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Two-Part Webinar on Supplemental Poverty Measure

The U.S. Census Bureau has announced plans to develop a supplemental poverty measure based on recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences. This modern assessment of deprivation will be released initially in the fall of 2011 and will be used alongside the official poverty measure, developed half a century ago.

The webinar series is co-sponsored by the Brookings Center on Children and Families, the Half-in-Ten Campaign, the New America Foundation, the National League of Cities, and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

Together, the two webinars are designed to provide a thorough review of the supplemental poverty measure. You are strongly encouraged to register for the two webinars. Both webinars are free.


A Supplemental Poverty Measure: What It Will and Won't Do

Learn why a new poverty measure is needed and how the supplemental poverty measure will compare to the official poverty measure. Find out how the poverty threshold for each measure will differ. Hear what role Congress will play.

When: Wednesday, April 14, 2-3 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Michael Laracy, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Speakers: Arloc Sherman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Indivar Dutta-Gupta, House Committee on Ways and Means,

Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support

Annette Case, Strategies to Eliminate Poverty, The Seattle Foundation

Register here for A Supplemental Poverty Measure: What It Will and Won't Do: .


Behind the Scenes: Adopting a Supplemental Poverty Measure

Hear from the top about what the Obama Administration's key issues are and how the process will work. Find out why the supplemental poverty measure gets and deserves support across the political spectrum. Learn about state and local efforts to adopt more accurate measures of poverty.

When: Wednesday, April 21, 2-3 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Clifford Johnson, National League of Cities

Speakers: Rebecca M. Blank, U.S. Department of Commerce

Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution

Mark Levitan, New York City Center for Economic Opportunity

Register here for Behind the Scenes: Adopting a Supplemental Poverty Measure: .

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