We <3 the American Community Survey

Not infrequently, the Urban Initiative fields calls from local organizations trying to get their hands on data. Their questions have focused on issues like unemployment trends in Fall River, women’s earnings by educational attainment (which spawned one of our most popular blog posts yet), the methods with which people commute to work, and local poverty rates. Many times, our response is to provide these organizations with data from the American Community Survey, an ongoing effort to survey American households beyond the 10-year census to capture detailed information in real-time.

The ACS is a truly valuable tool for not just researchers, but also for organizations seeking to better understand their communities and government agencies charged with deciding how to distribute scarce dollars. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Check out this interesting video by the US Census Bureau on how Target parses this data to better address the needs of their retail customers:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgsdQxTv5kY]

So why do we bring this up? The House of Representatives recently passed a budget for the US Census Bureau that completely eliminates funding for the ACS. This was based on the premise that the ACS is invasive and obtrusive, an assertion disputed by nonpartisan policy researchers in this Washington City Paper article. This Washington Post piece also gives a concise summary of what’s going on, and here’s the response of the Census Bureau’s director.

What do you think? Can we live with out it? Does this present a unique opportunity for innovation when it comes to learning more about the nature of our communities, or would such efforts be cost prohibitive?

Event: Financial Empowerment for Individuals & Families

Have you read Dr. Michael Goodman’s recent article in Communities & Banking, that was written based on research conducted by members of the Urban Initiative team? While we highly recommend reading it, the condensed version is that many low-income people in New Bedford are using non-traditional, high-cost financial service providers (i.e. check cashing outlets) when they could be saving money at traditional institutions, but the missing link is information on the accessible, low-cost services that banks and credit unions provide. The solution? Financial education.

And that’s just what locals can access at Bristol Community College’s Fall River campus on Saturday, May 19th. The Money Conference will be offered by the MA State Treasury and the MA Financial Literacy Trust Fund, and registration (plus breakfast and lunch) is free! Learn more at www.themoneyconference.com, and please share this with someone who might benefit from this event.

Women in the workforce, continued

Guest blogger Jen Gonet’s post must have hit a nerve, because just five days after it was published, it is now this blog’s most popular post. Then again, if the fact that a woman needs a Bachelor’s degree to earn more than a man without a high school diploma doesn’t make you sit up, what will?

NPR ran a story today that paints a more positive picture of women in the workforce, using a handy infographic to demonstrate that the jobs that employ larger shares of women have experienced considerable growth since the 70s. Notable changes include the fact that 56.8% of all government workers are women, up from 42.7% in 1972, and that education and health services jobs, predominantly held by women in the 70s and now, have grown tremendously in number.

Source: NPR, http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/05/03/151282913/what-america-s-women-do-for-work?sc=fb&cc=fp

Salem to develop master plan for public art

As the buzz grows louder around words like ‘placemaking’ and ‘creative economy,’ it’s interesting to see the ways that cities vary in the authenticity of their efforts to embrace these concepts. While some communities take the approach of re-branding existing efforts to contort themselves into a creative placemaking mold (particularly when there’s grant money on the table), Salem, MA appears to be responding particularly proactively. That North Shore city of some 40,000 just received a $25,000 grant through the “Our Town” program of the National Endowment for the Arts (an opportunity we posted in January’s newsletter) to fund a public art master plan. The resulting plan is intended to focus on integrating public art in an existing pedestrian mall while making improvements to traffic patterns and parking.

This kind of comprehensive approach to embracing the arts as a cornerstone of an urban economy makes terrific sense, because it’s not just about artwork: instead, it’s about strategically integrating transportation, small business, and public art in a sustainable way. Moral(s) of the story? Planning is good, and so is the Urban Initiative newsletter, which shares information on grant programs like “Our Town” well in advance of deadlines. So subscribe now!

Essex Street pedestrian mall, slated for public art master plan. Photo via Armstrong Field Real Estate: http://www.witchcityhomes.com/commercial/downtown-salem/images/essex-st-mall.JPG.