PolicyMap’s 2014 Data Year in Review

Here at PolicyMap, the Data Team has had another very successful year. We’ve been working on a lot of new data and we’ve been focused on how to make PolicyMap more easy-to-use than ever. Here are some of our most exciting accomplishments this year.

We completely overhauled of the look and feel of PolicyMap. We made each of our features more accessible and, frankly, more attractive to use. We reorganized our data menus, and we reconfigured our legend. And best of all, we combined all of our various types of data (points and layers) into one place, along with our blog posts. Just click on one of our data menus, and you’ll see that it’s easier than ever to find what you need.

And the data highlights:
Valassis Lists Vacancy data – blockgroup level quarterly data about the vacancy rate
Powerlytics IRS Tax Return data – data on characteristics of household tax returns like charitable contributions and EITC claimants
Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) school data – details on public schools ranging from college prep to discipline
CDC Flu data – information about flu activity and the spread of the flu virus

We’ve also been on the road, contributing to the ongoing conversation about the evolving role of data and data visualization tools. In 2014 we were chosen to play an active role at:

The American Community Survey Data User’s Conference – we spoke about various national mapping tools available on the web
GovLab’s Open Data 500 Roundtable at the White House Conference Center – we discussed the ways in which the Department of Commerce can work with private companies like PolicyMap to provide the best possible access to their data
Community Leaders Forum of the Federal Reserve System – we met with other selected community-focused groups to discuss issues facing low-income communities and how to use data to understand and address those problems
Association of Public Data Users Conference – we spoke about what happens to public data on the open market
Community Indicators Consortium Conference – we introduced freely available health data at the neighborhood level and discussed the challenges of comparing data between local and state levels
Google Maps Gallery – Google approached us to provide content on this exciting project that they launched this year

And we won Name That Data from The Washington Post’s Wonkblog!

Looking forward to 2015:
We have so much to look forward to in 2015 at PolicyMap! Continuing our effort to make PolicyMap increasingly user-friendly, we plan to focus on creating analytics and indices that will be intuitive and understandable to our users. Check back on our blog for updates on our approach to income inequality through a “gap map.” And get ready for our download feature coming in 2015 so that you can finally get the data you love in PolicyMap to use as you need it!

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Challenges with Immigration Data

Since President Obama announced his Executive Order on immigration on November 20th, immigration has been a hot topic in the news. Some are debating the constitutionality of the action, which directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand programs that defer deportation for classes of undocumented immigrants. Others are busy trying to determine who qualifies under the order. Regardless of where you stand, the question of how to best fix a broken immigration system is proving one of the most important policy issues of the day.
Continue reading

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New Public School Access and Equity Data

This summer, I went to the annual conference of the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington. The major topic of conversation at the conference was the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which recently came out for the 2011-2012 school year, and they are currently collecting data for 2013-2014.

The Department of Education calls the CRDC “wide-ranging”, which is an understatement. The dataset has data on public schools ranging from college prep (How many AP courses are offered? How many students take the SATs?) to discipline (How many students have been bullied? Suspended? Arrested? Expelled?) to teachers (What’s the average teacher salary? How many teachers are in their first or second year teaching?).

Some of this data is now on PolicyMap. It’s available to all users, in the Education menu, under “Data Points”, “Public Schools”, “Teachers and Discipline (CRDC)”. Longtime users will notice this is the first instance where we have a submenu in the “Data Points” section of any menu. That’s what happens when you have a lot of data!

Don’t be misled by the name; teachers and discipline are just two of the topics covered; it also contains data on enrollment, college prep, and retention. Though it’s important to mention, retention isn’t what you think it is: It’s students who are held back a grade.

Many of the indicators have filters, so you can see spatial variations across geographies. How does the number of AP courses offered differ between low-income and high-income areas?

The dark green areas are higher income... and a lot of the schools there offer more AP courses.

The dark green areas are higher income… and a lot of the schools there offer more AP courses.

And one more thing: This is just the start. Many of the indicators in the CRDC are broken down by race and gender, so even more detail is available. We’re working to add these indicators, along with more topics. Anything you’d like to see in particular? Send us an e-mail!

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Mapping Access to Doctors

How far do you travel to get to a doctor? Depending on where you live, the answer to this question can vary greatly. If you reside in Texas, for example, it is possible that you may have to travel several counties over to get to the nearest doctor. In fact, as of 2012, more than 30 counties in Texas had not even one primary care physician! We can get a very clear picture of this issue by looking at data from Health Resources and Services Administration’s Area Health Resources File (AHRF), which we recently updated on PolicyMap with data from the 2013-2014 release.

The map below shows just how limited primary care physicians are in south Texas. The lack of access to doctors, compounded by the high levels of poverty in some of these areas, can make addressing medical issues very challenging. This is not just a Texas problem, though. Communities from Buffalo, New York to Puget Sound, WA to St. James, MN are trying to figure out how to address the shortage of primary care physicians.

Other AHRF data available on PolicyMap include access to dentists, emergency room usage rates, and access to hospital beds and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). If you have any suggestions for other health data you would like to see on PolicyMap, please let us know!

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Where People Are Moving

Economists say that one of the advantages the United States has over Europe is the ease of labor mobility. If you live in an area of high unemployment, you don’t need to get a visa or learn a new language to move to another state.

Interstate migration is an interesting way to gauge the comparative economic health of areas within the United States. PolicyMap has county-to-county migration data from the IRS, which compares tax returns from one year to the next to count the number of people (and their aggregate income) that leave or move to a county in a given year. We just updated this to include the migration from 2010 to 2011.

The first map I looked at was the number of new individuals in a given county in 2011:

My immediate reaction was, wow, a lot of people are moving to the northeastern I-95 corridor! Also, it looks like there’s a lot of in-migration in California, Arizona, and Florida. Continue reading

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Map of Student Loan Deductions

We’ve already blogged about the new IRS tax data added to PolicyMap, but earlier today, Powerlytics, the source of this new data and a big data provider of financial insights and analytics, officially announced our partnership.

With data from Powerlytics, we’re able to provide our customers with granular consumer financial information, all easily visualized through our award-winning mapping platform and leveraged against our vast library of place-based data.

To see our new data from Powerlytics in action, check out a compelling map about a topic that resonates with millions of Americans: Student loans.

With this map you can visualize student loan interest deductions from 2004-13 to find interesting trends across states, counties, metros and zips.

(Click to open in PolicyMap)

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Want to know more about PolicyMap and Powerlytics? Read the official press release from Powerlytics.

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City Council announces new CSI mapping tool

Last night Philadelphia City Council hosted a public stakeholder discussion on its new Community Sustainability Initiative (CSI). The public meeting showcased City Council’s new mapping tool — powered by PolicyMap! — to describe the initiative and invite community feedback and response. The event was hosted at WHYY and went from 6-8pm. It was a lively session with lots of questions and feedback from the audience.

The goal of Philly CSI is to make every neighborhood in Philadelphia a neighborhood of choice, and Council is working with The Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Solutions team to develop a series of indexes that reflect the quality of life such as attractive amenities, quality schools, housing stability, economic prosperity and crime. Last night Policy Solutions President, Ira Goldstein, presented the first iteration of these indexes with a  live demo of the CSI tool.

We are very excited that City Council is using PolicyMap to take their initiative to the public. Look out for a series of community and neighborhood meetings throughout the City on this initiative to check out the tool and give your feedback.

csiphoto3

 

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PolicyMap Reminds You to Eat Your Vegetables this Holiday Season

For some of us – though certainly not you, or me – Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a period of not-so-healthy behavior patterns. The unrepentant gluttony that many Americans will indulge in tomorrow is only compounded by a December full of holiday treats. We might eat too many high-cholesterol foods and/or drink too much alcohol. In many parts of the country, frosty weather makes the thought of exercise outside the home unappealing.

All these behaviors have an undeniable impact on health outcomes. And coming to PolicyMap in early 2015 are a set of indicators from CDC’s 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). This dataset comes from an annual phone survey of over 400,000 Americans and includes detailed estimates for health status (e.g. diabetes, obesity, asthma) and health behaviors (physical activity, immunization, tobacco and alcohol consumption).

Green BeansWhile we may not be on our best behavior this winter, there’s one healthy thing we can all do tomorrow: load up a plate with the recommended amount (around 4.5 servings, depending on your activity level) of vegetables for the day. According to the BRFSS survey, Americans on average eat less than 1.5 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables daily. I hope to handily conquer my personal recommendation with roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes (yes, potatoes count as long as they aren’t fried), green beans, a heaping serving of cranberry relish, and maybe even some grape salad? Whatever you find traditional, know that small modifications to behavior can add up.

Stay tuned for more information about BRFSS data on PolicyMap.

“Grüne Bohnen01″ by Schwäbin – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.
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USDA Rural Development Multi-Family Properties, Updated At Last

Here at PolicyMap, there always seems to be buzz about some new dataset or update, and this November we’re buzzing with housing data. Following on the heels of the HUD Multifamily and CDBG Eligibility updates, we’re excited to announce that the USDA Rural Development Multi-Family dataset is up-to-date. The reason that we’re really excited is that this update comes after a fairly lengthy wait – nearly seven years, in fact.

The USDA Rural Development Multi-Family dataset contains the locations of multi-family complexes that receive loans and grants that can be used by very low- to moderate-income families to subsidize mortgages and make structural improvements. The dataset contains the addresses of these properties, as well as the name of management company, total number units (i.e., subsidized or otherwise) by number of bedrooms, and complex type (e.g., elderly and disabled, families).

We first added this data in 2007, as one of the earliest datasets on PolicyMap. We sent a Freedom of Information Act request for an update to this data in July 2012. And then we waited. And waited. Until finally, this summer, a heroic USDA employee found our file, and “fast-tracked” it to its completion. Then came the small matter of actually making the map. Continue reading

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PolicyMap for Public Health!

PolicyMap is excited to be exhibiting at the American Public Health Association conference November 15th -19th! Public health officials and practitioners from around the country have shown great interest in learning how PolicyMap can be a useful tool to streamline their data and mapping needs. Whether tracking health indicators over time, analyzing health risks and preparedness, or uploading patient data to better understand your clientele, PolicyMap can be a great asset for health departments and organizations. PolicyMap is also a simple way to pull much of the data needed for your Community Health Needs Assessment.   Come see us at Booth # 1346 and attend our Presentation: “PolicyMap for CHNA and More!” on Monday November 17th at 1:00 PM in the APHA Exhibitor Theatre.

APHA

If your health department is looking for an easy and affordable way to access thousands of indicators, upload your own data, and easily share it all throughout your organization, send us an email today!

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