This guide is a reference tool describing online sources that provide data typically in a csv or shapefile format at a local scale, specifically the United States census tract. A census tract generally encompasses a population between 2,000 to 8,000 residents. Given empirical, software, data, and theoretical advancements, social scientists are utilizing more flexible geographic scales to measure the neighborhood environment. However, as a convenient source used by various stakeholders for making decisions at the local level, census tracts are still quite relevant in research, policy and applied practice. Below are online data sources organized by topic or theme.

Comprehensive neighborhood data sources

Decennial Census and American Community Survey

The Census represents the most comprehensive source for demographic and socioeconomic data at the census tract level. You can download tract level data from the following sources

You can download Census tract shapefiles (and other spatial data formats) at the following sites

If you want to evaluate tract characteristics over an extensive time period, you’ll need to account for changes in tract boundary definitions. Social explorer allows you to get historical census data in 2010 tract boundaries. Other resources for getting data normalized to a certain year’s boundary definition include

Health characteristics

The following datasets provide health related indicators at small scale geographies.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

HUD offers a plethora of lower geographic scale datasets on a variety of housing, built environment, and socioeconomic indicators for the country or select Metropolitan Areas. The main data splash page for the HUD is located here. Many of the datasets provide indicators of HUD funding, such as tracts that qualify for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. They also provide Fair Area Market Rents at the zip code level, and georeferenced data located on their eGIS open data portal, which includes point level information.

Work commuting patterns

Eviction rates

Gentrification

Opportunity Mapping Indices

Opportunity mapping is used to illustrate where opportunity rich communities exist (and assess who has access to these communities) and to examine where disadvantage or opportunity poor communities are located. Rather than present neighborhood characteristics separately, opportunity mapping consolidates characteristics into single indices of opportunity. This is fast becoming a popular tool in the applied and policy worlds, with indicators being developed for an assortment of different neighborhood dimensions. The indices themselves may not be as relevant for you given the type of question you want to answer; however, all of these indices rely on a consolidation of a bunch of variables that are not available in a clean format at a local level, and many of the websites below provide these variables for download.

Opportunity Atlas

The Opportunity Atlas is an an interactive, map-based tool that can trace the root of outcomes, such as poverty and incarceration, back to the neighborhoods in which children grew up. The atlas, in a nutshell, shows “Which neighborhoods in America offer children the best chances of climbing the income ladder?” You can view the tool and download all the census tract data here.

Los Angeles Neighborhood Data for Social Change

A data warehouse created by the University of Southern California that collects a bunch of health, demographic, built environment, and socioeconomic variables at the neighborhood level for the County of Los Angeles. Check the site out here.

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