The US Census Opportunity Atlas
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Census-based policy evaluation


The second in a two-module series built on the US Census Opportunity Atlas , this module invites you to evaluate various social program ideas based on data drawn from this tool. If you haven't already digested the Atlas Module 1, do so before continuing this module.

bookCore Concept: Program evaluation framework

Imagine you are working in an advisory capacity for a county or city-level administrator tasked with allocating limited public resources to public service programs designed by outside consultants. In typical consultant fashion, some recommendations came out of a churn-and-go attitude and would not be wise investments. Others, your boss believes, are sound and worthy of public funds. Consider the following sequence for evaluating these programs:

  1. Read the program proposal carefully
  2. Identify the population subgroup(s) the recommendation claims to benefit
  3. List the key metrics used for evaluating the effectiveness of a given program
  4. Scour The Atlas to gather as much primary data related to the locations of concern in the proposal
  5. Position the proposal and your data side-by-side and look for convincing data bits to support the overall recommendation and policy structure.
  6. Boil your recommendation down to a location along a spectrum of confidently reject, inconclusive, and confidently recommend.
  7. Defend your overall recommendation using a handful of clear, data-backed claims that connect your data with the program aims and mechanisms.

Evaluation spectrum

Prepare to justify each of your overall program judgments

evaluation spectrum

Program Proposal 1: Opportunity down the street

The core policy ideas that emerges from The Atlas is that folks of a given income can achieve much more positive outcomes in some locations compared to others--even within their own municipality. This program is designed to provide moving vouchers to families and individuals in a single tract if they decide to move to nearby areas.


Pittsburgh's north side

Program structure

Housing voucher are offered to residents in Northview Heights whose family/parent income is in the 25th percentile or below (low income) based on where they choose to move. The following table shows the monthly voucher amount provided based on your moving destination. The program funding allocation is based on a total program budget of $10m, with a fraction used for overhead management costs and not distributed as vouchers.

Destination neighborhood Monthly voucher amount Program funding allocation
Reserve township $450 $1m
Summer hill $280 $2m
City view $600 $5m
Perry south $300 $1m

Guiding Atlas map

This screen clip shows the program area in The Atlas with household income displayed for children whose parents were in the low income bracket.

Houshold income outcomes in northern pittsburgh

Key outcome measures

Success in this program is measured by the percent of allocated program funds used to pay vouchers in the intended neighborhood.

Evaluation focus considerations

This program is based on household income outcomes and median rents from 2006-2010. You'll want to be sure to evaluated the program fund distribution by correlating the outcome measure with the neighborhood characteristic.

Group Inquiry:

In your group, rate the proposed allocation of funds on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning extremely disapprove of the proposed allocation and 10 meaning completel approve. Write your group names, your rating, and any changes you'd make to the allocation on your colored sheet of paper.

Program Proposal 2 overview: Young, single mothers

Women who have children in their teens are at much higher risk for suffering from poverty later in life. Census data suggest that families from lower income quarties are more likely to have women children who, later in life, give birth in their teens.


South East of Pittsburgh City: Braddock, rankin, North Braddock, Homestead, Duquense, etc.

Program structure

Designers looked at percent of teenage women who give birth based on parental income. Since supporting women who have children at a young age can help both the mother and the child for years to come, this program is designed to connect young mothers with jobs close by where they live.

Houshold income outcomes in northern pittsburgh

Employment center support

Based on The Atlas data, Job Growth from 2004 to 2013 is unevenly distributed in the region. This program seeks to place JobCorps and other post-college students looking to serve communities for a few years after college with employment agencies in high-growth areas. Planners have prioritized these municipalities for placement:

  1. Braddock
  2. Duquense
  3. North Versailles

Key outcome measures

Number of teen mothers who find part or full-time employment at above $15/hr.

Group Inquiry

Rate your group's confidence in this program's ability to promote solid employment by young mothers on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being zero confidence in the program, and 10 being perfect confidence. If not rating a 10, what weakens your confidence?

Program Proposal 2 overview: Race-based scholarships

This program offers merit-based scholarships to graduating high school seniors and uses race as a factor in alloting funds. Designers argue that since race was historically used to deny rights and privileges to folks, race should be used in determning aid.


Bridgeport, Connecticut

Program structure

Since learning about The Atlas, scholarship founders have decided to weigh applications by applicant's home census tract and parental income, in addition to merit achievement and race.

Position your map to look at the Bridgeport and Stratford area:

Houshold income outcomes in northern pittsburgh

Scholarship point weighting:

Tract Weighting (point multiplier) by demographic
Tract 09001080100, Stratford, CT 3x for black applicants, 2x for white
Tract 09001073800, East Side, Bridgeport, CT 3x for Hispanic applicants, 1x for black

Key outcome measures

Comparison of graduation rates of students from the same socioeconomic categories between those receiving scholarships and those not receiving scholarships

Group Inquiry:

What data-based outcomes could justify differing point weightings by race in a given tract?

Would you re-allocate the points in the chosen tracts differently by race?

If you conducted separate allocations of scholarship dollars for low and middle income parents, would you use similar or different allocations?