In the past year and a half, I have managed the creation of 303 different community data profiles. You’ve probably seen them–they are one-page fact sheets that contain data about different geographies. We’ve released them for each county in Ohio, each state and federal legislative district in Ohio, each neighborhood in Cleveland, and most recently, each Cuyahoga County council district and each City of Cleveland ward. We are planning to do even more next year.
Last week on WCPN’s Friday Reporters’ Roundtable on Sound of Ideas,there was a discussion about our latest profiles. Chris Quinn, editor at Cleveland.com noted, “lines for the county districts are pretty much meaningless…. We know where the poverty is– it’s not changing. I mean we’ve looked at it by city council wards, we’ve looked at it by municipal boundaries, and so just doing it within a different set of lines isn’t all that enlightening because we know where the poverty is, we just aren’t doing anything to fix it.”
I get what he means when he says the districts are meaningless – many of the districts are oddly shaped, and there is no sense of community that is shared by all the residents of County Council District 7, for example. Yes, political districts are drawn for political reasons. But the conversation got me thinking again about why we do these profiles, if the districts are “meaningless.”
Here are three good reasons why we create community data profiles:
1. The districts matter to policymakers.
When we released our legislative district profiles last year, we got feedback from many state representatives and senators and their staff members about how useful the profiles were to them. Rarely do they see numbers about their districts all in one place like that. Good policy makers care about their constituents, and they want to know what people in their districts are experiencing. Because district boundaries rarely match up with municipal boundaries, data and information about constituents can be hard to find at the district level. CCS is dedicated to providing it.
2. Good public policy should be informed by data.
Much of the data in our profiles are publicly available– anyone could go on the Internet and look it up. Some of the data are harder to find than others. Some of the data are not publicly available; we partner with NODIS at Cleveland State University, which compiles data for small local geographies, such as neighborhoods and wards. We want to make the data available in one place, presented in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. Policy makers may use the profiles to determine where to prioritize their resources. Advocates may use the profiles to talk to their representatives and people in their communities about issues that matter to them. Nonprofits and agencies may use the profiles to measure the existing need in the areas they serve and adjust programs and services to meet those needs. All of those undertakings should be bolstered with reliable data, which we provide in our profiles.
3. The profiles show that health and human services matter everywhere.
It is true that in Cuyahoga County, poverty is concentrated in the city of Cleveland. That is a pattern that exists in urban cores around the country, and there are all sorts of policy reasons why that has happened. If there are to be substantial investments in policies that will help people in poverty, it can’t just be the people in impoverished areas that care about it. And other people should care about it, because one child that doesn’t know where dinner is coming from tonight is too many. One family that has to spend half of their household income on housing is too many. One older adult that is forced to choose between medication and food is too many.
Furthermore, we know that these issues are not isolated. Even in the lowest poverty county council district, 5,800 people live below the poverty threshold. Even in the Cleveland ward where the rate of people who lack health insurance is lowest, over 2,500 people don’t have health insurance.
My hope with the profiles is that someone, anyone, will look at them and have an “aha!” moment about their own community. And then that they will take that a step further, and do something about it.