When disaster strikes an American community, local and regional planners focus on saving lives and property, but once the winds stop or the waters recede, the process of assessing the damage and economic impacts begins. Developing an accurate economic and demographic baseline is a key early step in this process, as it gives planners the starting point from which to assess the damage and plan the recovery.
The Economics and Statistics Administration’s U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis provide a wide-array of local and regional data that are used to create these baselines. The links below provide examples of the many data sources useful in this planning process. The Economics and Statistics Administration regularly uses these data sources when it contributes to the Department of Commerce’s cooperative work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) via the Natural Disaster Recovery Framework. Needless to say, these data are also useful for other economic planning purposes, so all local communities may want to take advantage of them at one point or another.
Where do I start?
The first step is to figure out the geography in which you are interested. The Census Bureau has an online Guide to State and Local Geography that may be helpful in this decision making process. In developing a post-disaster economic baseline, you will likely also want to consult the geographies covered by any relevant Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Declaration.
Where can I find the big picture data?
If you’re looking for a data snapshot of your state, county, city, or zip code the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts or American FactFinder may be your best bet. These tools provide frequently requested information about American people and businesses. American FactFinder is also a useful tool for downloading more extensive datasets, such as those from the resources described below.
Who lives here?
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey is a key resource for population data, particularly if you need data that is more current and/or more in depth than what is available from the 2010 Census. For example, the American Community Survey is a source of data on the income distribution or the share of households in poverty, which can be useful for identifying parts of the community that may struggle in a post-disaster recovery.
Who works here?
If you are interested in understanding local employment dynamics, such as who commutes into your community to work, you can check out the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program. For example, the Quarterly Workforce Indicators provide extensive detail on the dynamics of local labor markets. Also included here is the OnTheMap site, an interactive mapping tool that uses these data. It shows, for example, how many workers are employed in a geographic region and live outside of it. These resources also provide information about workers by the industries in which they work.
Employment and unemployment data—published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (a part of the U.S. Department of Labor)—also provide insights into local and regional labor markets.
Which industries contribute to the local economy?
A resource for looking at the industry profile in a region is the County Business Patterns data. These data provide information on the number of paid employees, payroll, and number of establishments by industry for counties and states.
Another view into regional economic activity is provided by Nonemployer Statistics, which captures information on businesses without paid employees, such as self-employed individuals operating unincorporated businesses.
If agriculture is a key contributor to your local economy you may want to explore data available from the National Agricultural Statistical Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
How big is the economy?
The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ Regional Economic Accounts are a resource for data on state and local area Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and personal income. BEARFACTS for States & Local Areas is an interactive tool that provides customized fact sheets about an area's personal income and gross domestic product.
What if I need data for response as well as recovery planning?
The Census Bureau’s OnTheMap for Emergency Management is a map-based tool that provides real-time interactive data reports linked to FEMA Disaster Declarations.
In some instances, the Census Bureau also collates and publishes data on specific disasters as they are occurring. If such data are prepared, they can be found at the Census Data and Emergency Preparedness website.
The federal government, including ESA’s statistical agencies, provides a host of excellent data sources that inform American businesses, state and local governments, and the public, and measure America’s economy. To learn more about ESA, visit www.esa.gov.
Sabrina Montes, Economist