Who Lives in Your City? Explore Updated Local Demographic Maps

Jul. 17, 2024

City Health Dashboard

As we often see depicted in maps on the City Health Dashboard, health outcomes can vary considerably across neighborhoods, reflecting in part that some areas have been cut off from resources or opportunities that support good health. Part of this is driven by demographic distribution – how groups of people spread or cluster throughout a community – and the policies and practices that fuel disparities between different demographic groups. Understanding the racial/ethnic and generational makeup of a city or neighborhood can help policymakers better understand how structural drivers, including historical disinvestment and current policies and institutions, may impact health outcomes. This enables them to work to reverse the harms caused by these systemic issues.

Demographic information is often only available in broad categories, limiting our ability to understand the distribution of smaller population groups. For example, the Asian population has been growing across the United States, driven in large part by an increase in first generation immigrants – those who are foreign-born. These communities often face language barriers, making it hard to receive essential information related to their health. But knowing that materials in an “Asian” language are needed is hardly helpful. More nuanced demographic information is required.

Data has an important role to play here; it helps illuminate racial/ethnic or age-related divides in our cities. The Demographics Maps feature on the Dashboard allows you to access maps and tables depicting who lives in your city and the neighborhoods where they live. This will help city leaders, advocates, and residents better understand the local population and equip them with more tools to improve public health.

Access to more granular data is the first step in addressing health disparities, however there are limitations in how race in particular is categorized. In the United States there is a long history of evolving racial categorizations based on the political and social beliefs over time. Furthermore, people often embody many demographic identities and it is difficult to capture this nuance via a survey form. In more recent years, the Census has conducted extensive research and is continually working to improve how they capture race and ethnicity data to better align with how people see themselves. For example, in 2020 the Census changed its questions and calculation methods to allow people to identify as more races simultaneously. Additionally, updates to expand data reporting to include a “Middle Eastern or North African” category are currently in progress.

Demographic Maps and Tables on the Dashboard

Users can access demographic maps and tables on the Dashboard by navigating to the Demographics Overview and the Demographics by Census Tract tabs under the City Overview page. The information and context provided by these tables and maps can help city policymakers, health practitioners, and organizers understand the racial/ethnic and generational makeup of their constituents at a more granular level and, ultimately, equip them with the tools they need to better serve these diverse communities.

For example, a community-based organization in Richmond, CA looking to provide physical activity programming for older adults might use Richmond’s Demographic Maps to more easily identify which neighborhoods would benefit most from their planned intervention. First, they would navigate to the Richmond, CA city page, then find Demographics by Census Tract.

richmond, ca demo by ct screenshot

If they select “Age 65+” from the dropdown, they can see the percentage of residents aged 65 and older by tract. The tract in the most western part of the city, as well as three tracts to the east, have the largest concentrations of older residents. The organization might consider hosting its proposed programming in or near one or more of these neighborhoods so that seniors do not need to travel to access organized physical activity.

65+ demo map - richmond, ca

Designing programs, delivering care and services, or conducting outreach with the target community in mind is critical. The information and context provided by these demographic tables and maps can help city policymakers, health practitioners, and organizers understand the age and racial/ethnic makeup of their constituents at a more granular level and, ultimately, equip them with the tools they need to better serve these diverse communities.

Deep-Dive on the Data Details

There were numerous important technical details to consider and data choices to make while crafting these maps and tables. Some of these specific issues and how we dealt with them are described below.

Presentation of Subgroups

Under the current system, the Census Bureau recognizes six larger race/ethnicity categories: American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN), Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (NHPI), and White. The Census allows individuals to indicate whether they identify with any of the larger race/ethnicity categories, and it also provides space to write in more specific race categories within these larger groups. Individuals can check more than one box if they identify as multi-racial.

To simplify navigation, where available, demographic groups are organized into these six primary groups along with associated secondary and tertiary subgroups. Subgroups are reported as they are presented by the source: American Community Surveys Census data.

For example, the American Community Survey question on race includes options to select from the secondary subgroup “Central Asian”, and then additionally from the associated tertiary subgroups: “Kazakh”, and “Uzbek”, for example. If responses do not fit into any existing tertiary category within “Central Asian” they are categorized as “Other Central Asian.”

central asian subgroups screenshot

Percent Foreign-Born

The Dashboard team consulted with researchers and community health experts that work with some of these subgroups to develop these maps. We learned that percent foreign-born (the proportion of a certain racial/ethnic group born outside the U.S) is essential to our understanding Hispanic and Asian American populations. This is for many reasons, including that there are differences in various important characteristics, such as English-speaking ability or cultural adaptation, between those born in the U.S. versus those born in other countries. Since the majority of foreign-born people in the U.S. are from Latin America or Asia, providing foreign-born data adds needed context to racial/ethnic demographic data. However, this distinction is less useful for American Indian/Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander groups. As such, percent foreign-born was not included for AIAN or NHOPI tables and maps.

Navigating Census Data

When presenting race/ethnicity data the Census offers two variable structures: “Race alone” applies to respondents who identify only as one race/ethnicity. “Race alone or in combination with” variables apply to respondents who identify as the specified race, along with one or more others. The Dashboard selects different variable types depending on the race/ethnicity group.

We use the “race alone or in combination with” variables for Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander subgroup counts and percentages. We use the “race alone” variables for Black or African American, White, and Foreign-born subgroups. Hispanic or Latino is classified as an ethnicity, not a race, so is by default inclusive of any other race category.

We made the choice to use the “race alone or in combination with” variables for some races based on guidance from experts at Center for the Study of Asian American Health (CSAAH) and the Tribal Research Department, Choctaw Nation. Using this variable type facilitates broader representation for smaller subgroups whose members often identify as “one or more races”. For example, we see high rates of Native American and White race combinations in the Census. Using the “race alone” variable type would remove these persons from our Demographics Map counts, thus limiting the representation of people who include “American Indian/Alaskan Native” as part of their racial identity. Because the Dashboard presents “AIAN alone and in combination with other races/ethnicities”, users can expect to see a larger and more accurate representation of AIAN people in their city than if “AIAN alone” were presented.

Recent research shows that people who identify as Hispanic or Latino ethnicity most frequently select the “some other race alone” or “White” categories. For this reason, we isolate the “White” variables as non-Hispanic, White. All variables in the Demographic Maps include Hispanic unless otherwise specified as “non-Hispanic”. Our Hispanic variable includes any persons who identify with a Hispanic ethnicity, no matter their race.

For example, if a given individual identifies with two race/ethnic groups (e.g. non-Hispanic White and Chinese) they will be counted in both groups for the purposes of subgroup counts and percentages, but will not be counted at all for percent foreign-born, since foreign-born is presented as “race alone.”

Continual Commitment to Adding Subgroups

Some important demographic data are not available from the Census. For example, as noted above, data are not currently available for Middle Eastern and African racial/ethnic subgroups, even as the Census is working to update this, so we could not put them in the maps and tables.

As more data become available from ACS, the Dashboard team is committed to adding these subgroups to the Dashboard. Although we are limited by data availability, we strive to provide relevant data that recognizes lived identities and highlights the diversity of our cities and communities.

Access your City’s Demographic maps and tables from your City Overview page and explore the racial/ethnic and age breakdowns across neighborhoods in your city. For example, see the maps for Richmond, CA or select “Change City” to see them for your city. And as always, please reach out with any questions: [email protected].

Acknowledging Our Contributors

These additions to the Dashboard were developed in part with funding from a pilot grant provided by the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health (CSAAH). This project would not have been possible without guidance from numerous outside experts. Thank you to our partners at CSAAH: Dr. Stella Yi (Associate Professor, NYU Grossman School of Medicine), Dr. Simona Kwon (Associate Professor, NYU Grossman School of Medicine), Jennifer Wong (Program Manager, NYU Grossman School of Medicine).

Special thanks also to the following experts who lent their guidance to this project: Dr. Celia Stall-Meadows (Tribal Research Department, Choctaw Nation), Dr. Carmela Alcántara (Associate Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work), and Dr. Sheri Daniels (Executive Director, Papa Ola Lokahi).

Updated: July 17, 2024; Originally Published: October 30, 2020

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