How Does Your Community Fare? A Guide to Using Our New Scorecard Data and Tools

Editor's Note: For more on the new data and resources, including how major U.S. cities compare across Scorecard measures, see Prosperity in American Cities: 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard New Local Data and Resources.

Today, Prosperity Now is releasing new local Scorecard outcomes measuring the financial stability and health of residents of cities, counties and metro area. In addition to updating the data for these areas, we have also expanded the Scorecard to include Congressional Districts and tribal areas (i.e., American Indian reservations). You can now find up to 26 local outcomes measures—with data by race and ethnicity where available—for any of these local areas.  

So how does your community fare? The answer to this question may seem obvious when you look at commonly cited data points – we have x percent homeownership and y percent unemployment. But those figures alone don’t tell the whole story. To really understand what they mean for your community you need to know how they connect to other important markers of financial health. 

Take San Francisco, which is infamous for having one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. Looking at the housing cost burden of renters across major cities, you may be surprised to find that San Francisco has the lowest percentage of renters paying 30% or more of their incomes towards rent (42.5%). 

This does not mean that San Francisco has a better housing market than other major cities, as many people could probably guess. In fact, San Francisco has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country at 36.8%, lagging far behind the national average of 63.1%. This is largely because San Francisco is one of the worst cities in America when it comes to home affordability, with the median home value being nearly ten times higher than median income in the city. Nationally, the median home value is 3.6 times higher than median income. Instead, San Francisco’s unusually low percentage of cost burdened renters opens up further investigations: Do renters in San Francisco make disproportionately high incomes to counterbalance the large rent they pay? Has rent control in San Francisco eased the financial burden on renters? 

This is the narrative-shifting power of data. San Francisco’s rental market underscores the point that to truly understand how your community is faring you more need than one or two standalone data points, you need to find the story behind those data points and how they all mix together as parts of a whole. 

Having complete information makes us better advocates for economic security and overall prosperity. We can educate our policymakers with authority, and vote for the candidates whose priorities match community needs. With mid-term elections just months away, the need for good information to effectively engage in politics is increasingly urgent.

But few people have the time to dig up relevant data from spreadsheets that are often hard to find, come from disparate sources and, frankly, presented in a confusing manner. That’s where Prosperity Now fills the gap: Our Prosperity Now Scorecard serves as an extensive data tool with multiple outcome measures for states, counties, cities, metro areas, and now congressional districts and tribal areas. Through an accessible interface and comparison tools, the Scorecard makes it easy to cut through the noise and find valuable talking points that tell a bigger story about your community. 

We have compiled some suggestions, highlighting some of our new website features, that will help when trying to answer the question “How does my community fare?”: 

  1. Explore the data in related topics. We recently added a “Local Outcome Measures” tab to our “Data by Issue” section. Selecting outcome measures from “Data by Issue” also allows you to explore topics related that outcome measure (located on the left-hand column of the screen) which can help paint a clearer picture of how your community is performing in regards to a specific issue area. 

  1. Use our new Compare tool. We have revamped our compare tool to make it easier to identify similarities and differences across local areas. Using this new function allows for comparison based on demographic features such as population or median income, which can further help you understand the data and issues facing your community. 

  1. Compare your community to surrounding areas and your state. Let’s say you are trying to understand your city’s data. It helps enormously to also have the same data on your county and state, so that you can see for what outcomes your city performs better or worse, or to identify trends in the data that cut across all three levels. Our “Data by Location” section will immediately provide the data at the state and national level but you can also use it to search for your county data as well. To further contextualize the data, you can use our “Data by Issue” section to view state-level data over time. 

  1. Build your own reports and graphics. Once you’ve found interesting data points, you can use the Scorecard’s easy “report/chart-building feature” to compile explanations, graphics and figures that will go perfectly in a presentation, handout, email or memo. 

  1. Conduct further research. Doing some light research on a specific area and topic can help to identify why that area may be succeeding or failing relative to similar communities. 

We hope that the new tools on the website and these tips will help advocates and laymen alike access, understand and utilize the data in more meaningful ways to help make real change in their local communities. 

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