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Leveraging Demographic Data for Non-Profit Organizations: The Social Explorer Advantage

THURSDAY, OCT 06, 2022

Census data isn’t just for large corporations with well-funded research departments.

An increasing number of nonprofits – spanning categories from libraries to food banks – are turning to Social Explorer for easy-to-use mapping and report data that helps serve their constituents by identifying trends at neighborhood levels.

Using Social Explorer’s customizable and intuitive tools, for example, the North Texas Food Bank is able to identify specific areas of the nation’s ninth largest city that might need more attention. Data from the 2016-20 American Community Survey, for example, can help identify areas where poverty and food security are greatest.

The survey shows that the poorest substantially populated neighborhood is the 75203 zip code, located almost directly south of downtown Dallas, on the other side of the Trinity River. Its 34.8 percent poverty rate is the highest among 86 zip codes that include 2.8 million Dallas County residents. Despite its high poverty rate, the zip code has only the 10th-highest percentage of people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) to put food on the table. According to the Census Bureau, 21.8 percent of people in the zip code are enrolled in the SNAP program.

The Census Bureau’s survey shows the 75210 zip code in south Dallas, almost directly east of downtown, has a poverty rate of only 25.4 percent – but 41.4 percent of residents rely on food stamps, the highest percentage in the city. The zip code is one of the most segregated in the city; people of color make up 98.2 percent of its 9,504 residents, and its median household income of $26,801 is the lowest of any substantially populated zip in the area.

The low median household income means that housing costs eat up a greater share of earnings; data available from Social Explorer shows the typical renter in the 75210 spends 34.8 percent of income on housing, the 11th-highest percentage in the area. The least-affordable neighborhood for renters when it comes to income is the 75141 zip code, about 10 miles south of downtown Dallas. Rent eats up an average of 45.6 percent of household income in the area.

The demographic information, of course, identifies at-risk communities and can be used across years to determine broad trends, such as neighborhoods that are gentrifying (or those sinking into poverty). But Social Explorer, while a leading source for easy-to-use Census data, also makes data available about individual retail establishments that accept food stamps.

There are roughly 6.5 food stamp retailers for every 10,000 people in Dallas. Within individual zip codes that report substantial populations, the rate ranges from 0.7 retailers per 10,000 people in the 75007 zip code registered in Carrollton, a well-to-do north Dallas suburb, to 18.3 per 10,000 in the 75202 zip code, which takes up roughly half of the downtown district.

Quantity, however, doesn’t ensure quality. Of the 1,841 retailers that accept food stamps in Dallas County, almost 77 percent aren’t full groceries. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, 935 of Dallas County food stamp retailers are convenience stores; another 482 are described as “combination grocery/other” stores that have been correlated with childhood obesity. Another 173 retailers are “super stores,” such as Walmart or Costco. 

Social Explorer data can also be used to identify “food deserts,” or places where nutritious food isn’t available. A quick analysis of the USDA data finds convenience stores account for more than half of food stamp retailers in 50 of the 86 zip codes located in Dallas County. In the 75207 zip code, a thin slice of land that borders downtown to the east and the Trinity River to the west, they account for all seven food stamp retailers; in 75247 in northwest Dallas, they  make up 10 of 11 retailers that accept SNAP benefits. 

The North Texas Food Bank is just one example of a nonprofit that’s benefitting from Social Explorer’s intuitive, award-winning website. We’ve also helped not-for-profit organizations ranging from law firms arguing for voting rights to libraries looking for better ways to serve their patrons. Check out Social Explorer today to see how we can help your nonprofit help its clients.

Author: Frank Bass

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