The coronavirus pandemic is not only a public health crisis, but also an economic one. Changes like social distancing measures and plummeting consumer spending are sending layoffs soaring and putting millions of Americans at financial risk – particularly those who were already struggling before the pandemic began.

Vulnerable populations – including those who are economically or socially disadvantaged; racial or ethnic minorities; institutionalized persons, like those in correctional facilities or nursing homes; as well as pregnant women and children; those with mental and physical disabilities and/or cognitive impairments; and the terminally ill or very sick – were already at risk of disproportionately poor health and economic outcomes. The disproportionate impact of this public health crisis on people of color reminds us that data should be disaggregated by race, age, zip code, immigration status, and gender where possible. We already know that health outcomes are dictated by where a person lives, and whether they are safe and have access to healthy food, quality education, and well-paying jobs. These social determinants of health should form the basis of any governments’ thinking about their response to and recovery from this public health crisis.

Local governments around the country are scrambling to help those affected economically by COVID-19. But before solving a problem, we must first identify, measure and track it accurately. That is why we put together this list of indicators that local officials can use, both to identify economic need and to track whether that need is being adequately addressed through policy.

The indicators on this page are based on conversations with experts in social policy and measuring the health of communities. For each indicator, we include a description of how the indicator can be used in decision-making, a clear definition of what is measured, the type of data source, and a link to the relevant dataset. We also categorize each indicator to help you align it with existing city priorities.

Each indicator on this page can be tracked through data that is available now, mostly though federal datasets that can be disaggregated at the state and – depending on the dataset – sometimes local level. Tracking the economic recovery of your population may eventually require collecting eligibility and participation data from new programs, or from partners at other levels of government or local nonprofits. These partners may also be willing to partner on collecting new data.

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Data-informed decision making should go beyond collecting data and displaying it on a dashboard. These indicators should be used to make decisions about deploying resources in high-need areas and planning policy interventions. Once you have your baseline data, consult with a team of experts who can provide insight into what a reasonable target should be for each indicator – whether the data should move up or down, by how much, in a certain period of time. The group of experts may include department staff, people from nonprofits who work on the issue in question, and people with lived experience in the challenge you are trying to solve.

Progress on these metrics can be measured in aggregate, but to develop deeper insights that can help shape public policy and prepare vulnerable populations in cities for the next shocks, more data collection and analysis will be necessary. Surveys can be designed in a way that answers questions about key decisions cities need to make – for instance, exploring the relationship between a person’s income, work arrangements, housing, and their ability to socially isolate can inform decisions about whether to close streets to vehicle traffic in certain areas in the short-term, and can inform housing and workforce development policy in the long-term. Understanding the policies that cities, states and counties have in place, and how those policies affect outcomes for people of different ages, genders and races will be critical as well.

Thank you:

  • Karen Bassarab, Senior Program Officer, Food Communities & Public Health, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University
  • Erin Biehl, Program Officer, Food System Sustainability & Public Health Program, Center for a Livable Future
  • Dr. Celeste Chavis, Associate Professor in the Department of Transportation & Urban Infrastructure Studies in the School of Engineering at Morgan State University
  • Dr. Stefanie DeLuca, Urban Sociologist, Johns Hopkins University
  • Dr. Lauren Gardner, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Systems Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • Jamie Harding, GIS Specialist, Food Communities and Public Health, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University
  • Dr. Justine Hastings, Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs at Brown University and Faculty Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research; founding director of Research Improving People’s Lives (RIPL)
  • Dr. Seema Iyer, Associate Director of the Jacob France Institute and Research Assistant Professor, Department of Finance and Economics, University of Baltimore
  • Dr. Robert Moffit, Professor of Economics atJohns Hopkins University member of The National Academy of Sciences
  • Dr. Nick Papageorge, Associate Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University
  • Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University