Populations and Vulnerabilities

Happy extended family group taking a selfie

Certain factors, like sex, age, or income can influence an individual’s health, risk for certain diseases, and risk for being seriously affected by public health emergencies. The same is true for population groups.

We Track That

The Tracking Network uses several national sources, including federal agencies, to obtain state and local data about population characteristics. This information is based on populations as a whole, rather than individual members of a particular population. Therefore, individual health risk factors are not included in this information. The Social Vulnerability Index data included on the Tracking Network come from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Types of Data

This indicator includes population estimates (number and percent) of people by race, ethnicity, age, gender, single-parent households, speaking English less than “very well’, and aged 65 years and older and living alone. Data are presented at Census tract, county, and/or state level for all states.

Life Expectancy at Birth
This indicator shows the average annual life expectancy at birth for a population over a 5-year period. Data are presented at county and state level for all states. These data are estimates and cannot be used to predict an individual’s life span.

Health Status
This indicator includes data on several health conditions that could make a person more vulnerable in emergency or disaster situations. Examples include certain disabilities, chronic health issues (e.g., arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure), mental health issues, and overall physical health. These data are available at the census tract level for all 50 states. Sources include the American Community Surveyexternal icon, National Diabetes Surveillance System, and CDC’s Population Level Analysis and Community Estimates (PLACES) Project.

Industry & Occupation
This indicator shows the annual number of employees working in the food manufacturing industry from 1990 to the most recent year available. Data are available at the county level for all states and the District of Columbia.

Low-Income Energy Affordability
This indicator provides data on average annual household expenditures for energy (including electricity, gas, and other fuels) and average annual energy burden, defined as the average annual housing energy costs divided by the average annual household income. Data are presented over a 5-year period at the census tract, county, and/or state level for all states, plus the District of Columbia. The source for these data is the U.S. Department of Energy.

This indicator shows the crude and age-adjusted rates of adults who participate in preventive health services such as routine doctor and dentist checkups, recommended screenings (e.g., cervical cancer, cholesterol), staying up-to-date on clinical services (e.g., vaccinations), and taking high blood pressure medications. It also shows data on the number and percent of people who are uninsured. These data are available at the state, county, or census tract level for all 50 states. Sources include CDC’s Population Level Analysis and Community Estimates (PLACES) Project and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) Programexternal icon.

Social Vulnerability Index
This indicator shows relative vulnerability of every U.S. Census tract on 14 social factors including poverty, lack of vehicle access, and crowded housing. The factors are grouped into four related themes. Each Census tract receives a ranking for each variable, each theme, and an overall ranking. These data can be used by public health officials and local planners to better prepare communities to respond to emergency events like severe weather, floods, disease outbreaks, or chemical exposure. Depending on the year, data are available at the Census tract and county level for all states.

Socioeconomic Status
This indicator includes data on poverty, household income, employment status, and high school (or equivalent) graduation status. Data are presented at Census tract, county, and/or state level for all states.

Data Highlight
Tracking Network's Data Explorer tool: U.S. Map with layer options

Add layers to any map.
Click on the gear icon to select layers: surface smoke, current radar, transportation noise, active Atlantic cyclones. Try it!

Data in Action

Understanding population characteristics is essential for public health practices such as program planning, epidemiologic studies, and public health emergency preparedness. Knowing a population’s characteristics, including their vulnerabilities and resources, can help public health professionals determine possible effects of health problems or environmental conditions on disease trends. Tracking population characteristics and vulnerabilities in a standard way over time allows us to

  • identify populations or geographies likely to be at-risk for acute and chronic illnesses or, exposed to different chemicals in the environment.
  • gage a community’s preparedness and potential impact from a public health emergency.
  • better understand the factors that influence environmental exposures and human health across the United States.
  • assess the magnitude of county-level disparities over time.
    monitor the effects of public health policies aimed at lessening the environmental burden on various populations.
  • make informed decisions about resources needed for public health response or public safety by
    • identifying community-specific threats and hazards, at-risk populations, and community vulnerabilities
    • evaluating possible scenarios based on time, place, and conditions
    • determining potential resource needs and public health actions which could mitigate or prevent illness, injury, and death.

Learn More

CDC’s guide “Planning for an Emergency: Strategies for Identifying and Engaging At-Risk Groupspdf icon” describes six categories to consider when identifying at-risk groups that could be disproportionately affected by disasters.

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • English language proficiency
  • Medical issues and disability

The Tracking Network includes data for each of these categories.

Explore Populations and Vulnerabilities Data
Data Explorer
screenshot of Tracking Network data explorer tool

Create custom data visualizations, save, & share results

Quick Reports
Asthma Quick Reports web page screenshot

View data in simple tables

API graphic text

Access machine-readable data

Page last reviewed: February 22, 2022