In terms of raw information, there isn’t much on the Urban Institute’s new MetroTrends Data Dashboard that you can’t find using the Census or Bureau of Labor Statistics websites. But as known to anyone who must regularly navigate these arcane deposits of facts and figures, the info you want isn’t always so easy to track down. And even if it is, you rarely get a sense of what it means beyond a few numbers on a screen.
That’s where the Dashboard tool, which the D.C.-based think thank unveiled today, comes in handy.
In order to share data on four key topics — jobs and unemployment, housing, demographics and crime — for the 366 metro areas in the U.S., the Dashboard’s creators turned to everyone’s favorite interactive web tools: Maps and charts. In terms of having to process numbers upon numbers upon numbers, these graphics pay off.
A search for, say, Columbus, Ohio will turn up a chart showing the change in the unemployment rate over time since 2000 (it peaked in January 2010 and has steadily declined since then). A map will show not only how many jobs have been gained in the past year, but where these gains occurred. You’ll also get line graphs of the fluctuating crime rate and housing prices over the past decade or so, and a bar graph depicting the yearly net migration to the area between 2005 and 2010.
By having these numbers available in one place, one can easily make side-by-side connections between different factors that affect a given metro area.
For instance, the correlation between the Columbus metro area’s high unemployment in 2010 and its dramatic, simultaneous slowdown in migration — only 91 people arrived that year, compared to more than 2.500 in the previous year — is all the more apparent when I don’t have to jump between different pages on American FactFinder.
Clicking on each category lets users go further into specific details, if they want data on jobs numbers in different industries or demographic stats broken down by age, race, education et al.