Populations and Vulnerabilities

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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

Demographics
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.

Health Status
This indicator includes data on number and percent of people uninsured; number and percent of people over 5 years of age with a disability; and percent of population diagnosed with diabetes. 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.

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
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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
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Page last reviewed: October 21, 2020