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Census Tract Data Released in Developer and Analyst

February 3, 2021 by Drew Repp

Too often data keeps those you are trying to serve at a distance. In economic and workforce development and higher education, this distance comes in the form of labor market data that is too geographically general. When supporting local businesses, neighborhoods, and students, specificity about their locale is needed to serve them best.

To provide this specificity, we have updated Emsi’s Developer and Analyst platforms to now offer census tract-level data in the Industry and Occupation Tables, Industry and Occupation Maps, and Population Demographics Table and Map. Within these reports, users who already have access to zip-code data can now access Emsi labor market and demographic information by census tracts. 

Here are some of the benefits of this new geography delineation and why we’re excited to get it into the hands of communities, colleges, and universities.

1. Better serve local populations

In economic and workforce development, the primary clients of an organization are existing businesses and the citizens in their coverage area. Consequently, the more the organization understands local industries, occupations, and demographics, the better. And while many data points and information are useful at the city or county level, programs and policies are often directed at specific neighborhoods and communities, making localized data essential for both decision-making and execution. 

Here are a few ways you can use data at the census tract level to better serve your population:

  • Identify at-risk communities
  • Better understand school district populations and needs
  • Write more nuanced grant applications
  • Know your local diversity
  • Determine neighborhood-specific housing needs

On top of knowing your area’s industries and occupations, you also need to know your area’s boundaries. Boundaries of a city, county, or MSA may work, but often you need more granularity.

Historically, this granularity has come via data at the zip-code level. But zip codes merely identify the individual post office associated with a mailing address. They are a collection of mail delivery routes; they are not official geographies. So while zip codes are useful, bottom line, they were not created for the purpose of data collection and interpretation. Census tracts boundaries, on the other hand, are “delineated with the intention of being maintained over a long time so that statistical comparisons can be made from census to census,“ according to the Census Bureau.

For this reason, it’s better to use census tracts when you are:

  • Identifying boundaries, such as political districts
  • Performing data analysis, especially over time
  • Parsing out large metros to determine service areas

2. Enhanced BRE and recruitment

In the case of border communities (those on or near state lines) and large metros with multiple municipalities, moving a few blocks can have major implications: changes in tax structure, regulatory burdens, or minimum wage rate, to name just a few. Hence, businesses need to understand the occupation and industry makeup of their current location, and how it compares to locations within the same jurisdiction, a neighboring one, or a different state. If your economic or workforce development organization can make these comparisons based on census tract (or group of tracts), you will be able to provide much more accurate and actionable insights to local businesses.

Census tract data also gives better comparative context when assembling recruitment materials. At the county or regional level, industry, occupation, and demographic data for two locations may appear very similar. However, comparison of those same metrics at the census tract level can reveal the nuance which companies and site selectors are seeking when making relocation decisions. When you can determine the pros and cons of a site by its attributes at the census tract level, you will better differentiate sites across large metros, as well as between otherwise similar metros.

3. More accurate data for economically distressed areas

Many programs, grants, and funding sources available to communities must be administered in economically distressed areas. Determination of such areas is done at the census tract level (using metrics such as income or poverty rate). Community Empowerment Zones, and more recently Opportunity Zones, are examples of federal level-programs. They highlight the need for readily available LMI and demographic information by census tract, both in securing designation and administering the programs.

As similar programs aimed at distressed or underserved communities emerge at the state and federal level, your ability to first qualify an area in your community will require accurate census tract data. And for communities that sought qualified Opportunity Zones learned, the window for applying and gaining designation for such programs is often small. This makes quickly and easily accessible data vital.

At the local level, city and county governments developing targeted investment areas, initiatives, or incentives aimed at distressed neighborhoods can use census tract data to determine these areas. Additionally, the granularity of industry, occupation, and demographic data at this level allows governments to prioritize target areas, as well as develop different tools based on specific neighborhood needs.

4. Enhanced insight for college and universities in urban settings

Many colleges and universities are located in densely populated urban areas, serving students who want to stay local. In these cases, granularity and flexibility of data become indispensable. Census-level data opens up insight into demographic information and job prospects across a metro area or within a community college district—however you choose to define the boundaries of your search.

Defining a reporting area by census tract can help colleges and universities:

  • Strategically coordinate programs and resources at a system level
  • Align internships, experiential learning, or employer partnerships with areas of growing occupations or industries
  • Gain insight into student demographics near particular campuses
  • Create more precise on-ground recruitment strategies

5. LMI reporting that recognizes tribal boundaries

American Indian Reservations (AIR) and Federally Recognized Tribal Entities are described by census tract boundaries, rather than zip code. Since AIRs may cross state lines, census tract boundaries help define them independently of surrounding counties and states.

Census level reporting opens up opportunities for:

  • Relevant labor market information for Tribal Colleges and Universities
  • Data-informed tribal outreach, partnerships, or grants

Want to see more of this data in action? In our webinar on February 17, we’ll walk through how to access reports with census tract data, explore use cases, and field your questions. Already an Emsi client and want access to census tract data? Contact your account manager to learn more.   

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