Vantage Point: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal of this project and the survey? How is the survey conducted?

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco launched Vantage Point in 2010 to gather viewpoints from community stakeholders across the 12th District around local issues and trends affecting low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. We conduct the project with the assumption that those working on the ground in these areas have the best understanding of local context, challenges, and promising practices. Their input helps us to monitor changes and trends over time in our district and compare and contrast the many diverse counties, cities, and towns of the western United States. 

Each edition of the Vantage Point project centers on a survey sent to hundreds of community stakeholders across the district and including a set of multiple-choice and open-ended response questions on housing, employment, and household financial stability, the three areas most commented on in previous surveys. Because community development issues are always evolving and play out across many fields of community work, an additional open-ended question allows respondents to comment on other important factors such as health, education, and access to social services and transportation.

As of 2014, we have incorporated a new approach to this project that combines our community stakeholder survey with the customized data reports posted on our community development data web page for each of 91 counties, 34 major cities, and 20 regions within the district, including a range of social, demographic, economic, workforce, housing, and health indicators. This data is presented within each profile at the county, city/town, and/or ZIP code level, with comparative data provided for the state and the U.S. Community stakeholder survey respondents are now asked to review the data for their area and reflect on the statistics while answering the survey questions. The invaluable narratives they provide in their responses expose the nuances behind the numbers we see in the county and city data reports. Taken together, the traditional quantitative data and the qualitative data of the community stakeholders’ responses provide a much rounder and more contextualized view of community conditions in each county and city. We believe that this approach yields more actionable data for scholars, practitioners, community members, and policy makers, and over time will build a much more valuable baseline and longitudinal analysis of the community development needs of our district.

I received an email invitation to participate in the Vantage Point survey. Why should I fill out the survey? What will you do with the responses?

The Vantage Point survey is a unique opportunity to tell us what is happening in your area’s low- and moderate-income communities based on your on-the-ground observations and experiences. As noted above, your responses provide invaluable information about the details and context around a given quantitative data point that we cannot glean from the numbers alone. You also have the first-hand knowledge to point out to us where quantitative data points may be misleading or misrepresentative of community conditions, and where further explanation may help those outside the community better understand the factors at play. In that vein, wherever possible, please be as specific as you can about the local context in your comments. For instance, if jobs were lost because a large employer closed or moved away, please tell us what industry that employer was in, the extent of the job loss, what skills those former employees have and may need to find new jobs in the area, and so on. These details can be very different from community to community even if the broader indicators appear the same in the graphs, and your input is the only way we can recognize, understand, and track such local changes. Please be sure to tell us about your community’s strengths, as well, as this is valuable information about the local resource base and capabilities already at hand in a neighborhood, city, or county.

One of our key goals in this project is to assemble and provide a rich, locally-specific, and locally-informed source of quantitative and qualitative data for each county in our district. We hope to learn from the responses to our survey what the key concerns are in each location, to help inform our community development projects and other Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco efforts going forward. This combined data resource will also be made available to community stakeholders and the general public, to make it easier to share the issues at hand with their representatives and other community members in a straightforward and data-supported manner, helping to pinpoint where and in what ways community interventions could have the greatest impact.

What kinds of indicators are included in the data profiles?

The data profiles include graphs or tables for the county and cities and towns on household type, educational attainment, veteran status, disability status, household mobility, English proficiency, unemployment, occupation of residents, median income, poverty level, type and age of housing stock, housing tenure and expenses, vehicle availability, race and ethnicity, work commute duration, computer and smartphone access, banking and savings, subsidized housing, homelessness, and a range of health factors.

How were the data sources and indicators selected?

We have intentionally chosen to use data sources (including the American Community Survey, CFED household financial stability data, County Health Indicators, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidized housing and homelessness data) that include data for most, if not all of the counties, cities, towns, and ZIP codes in the United States for several reasons. First, the indicators have been chosen to provide a broad range of information on a number of community development issues mentioned by respondents in previous rounds of our survey, such as housing, education, employment, and financial issues, from the most recent year that data is available. 

Second, a key goal of this project is to make as much useful community development data available for as many geographies as possible within our district, so that community stakeholders, policy makers, and the general public may more easily compare different geographies using data from the same source, measured in the same way. While we recognize that some counties and cities may have more detailed or more recent data available through their own local databases, not all of our counties and cities have access to this kind of data, and it may be measured very differently from place to place, complicating cross-area comparisons. 

Third, the data included in Vantage Point county and city profiles is drawn from publically-available databases, and therefore represent the data that anyone looking for community development indicators for a given county or city will find using that source. This is important for the Vantage Point survey, because we want to give the community stakeholders who respond to our survey the opportunity to tell us where they feel specific quantitative data points may be missing, misleading of the actual conditions on the ground, or not in line with other data sources they may have available at a local level. 

Finally, we have included a number of new indicators in this most recent round of the Vantage Point survey data profiles based on suggestions from community stakeholder respondents who completed the survey in our December 2014 twenty-county pilot. If there are specific indicators that you would like to see included in future rounds of the Vantage Point project, please make note of them in your survey response.

Why are some counties presented as part of a regional profile rather than an individual county profile?

The counties grouped together into the 20 regional profiles shown here tend to be smaller counties without cities and towns large enough to have accurate Census data available. We have grouped them into approximate regions with the data presented at the county level, with comparative data for the state and the U.S. This approach is to ensure that all counties within the 12th District are represented in one form or another in a data profile. Please note that recent data is not available through the Census for Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands at this time. We are currently investigating alternative data sources to create profiles for these areas in the future.

Why is there a graph or chart missing for my county/city in the data profile that is included in other counties’ profiles? Why is my city or ZIP code not included in my area’s data profile?

In general, county and city profiles posted here include locally-specific graphs of the same indicators from the same sources in order to make it easy to compare across counties and cities within our district. However, some county or city profiles may not include individual graphs and some sub-county geographies may not be included for certain reasons. In some cases data is not available for a given indicator for a given geography, usually because the area is smaller in size or population. Also, some areas with a more homogenous population or housing stock may not show data points above 0-2% for a given indicator (such as the Hispanic and Latino population, or the population that speaks English less than very well). While graphs have been omitted for these indicators in the data profile PDF, the indicators and percentages are listed in the XLS raw data documents also posted here, for those who are interested. Additionally, some indicators are only provided at the county level (such as the included health data) or for specific coverage areas (such as the included homelessness data). 

Individual ZIP codes, cities, or towns may not be included in the data profile for a larger county or city either because the sub-geography’s population is very small, meaning available data may have too high of a margin of error to be listed, or because the county or city contains such a large number of cities, towns, or ZIP codes that all of them cannot be legibly displayed together on a graph. In these cases, we have chosen a range of sub-geographies that cover the reach of the county or city as much as possible, but not every place is listed. Note that some of the largest cities included in the project – Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson – two separate data profiles (Part I and Part II) are displayed here to accommodate the much larger number of ZIP codes within these cities.

If you are interested in data for a city or ZIP code that is not listed within your county or city’s data profile or have questions about the indicators included, please contact us

May I use the graphs or data in the county/city profiles for research purposes or in a presentation?

Yes. You are welcome to use any of the data presented here for research, presentation, or other purposes, as all of it comes from publically-available databases. Please be sure to cite the original data source (listed below the graphs in the PDFs and on the second tab of the XLS documents) for each figure you use as well as a citation for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Vantage Point Project. Please contact us with any questions about using or reprinting data.

We welcome your input on the Vantage Point project. Please contact us with any additional questions or feedback.