New Peer City Tool

New Peer City Tool

A new Peer City Identification Tool, developed by the Community Development and Policy Studies division (CDPS) of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, will help you find peer cities that are experiencing similar trends or challenges. This information is fantastic for identifying needed context to policymakers and practitioners.

The tool is a data comparison and visualization instrument drawing on city-level indicators from the American Community Survey and historical Decennial Census records. The PCIT performs a cluster analysis to identify groups of similar cities along economic, demographic, social, and housing dimensions. The 300 cities included in the dataset had a population of at least 50,000 in 1960. Today, they have a median population of just over 100,000. All cities meeting this historical criterion are included in the tool, with a few cities excluded due to data consistency concerns.

First, select a city by entering the city name in the search bar, or clicking directly on the map. Next, select one of four themes off which to base the clustering: Equity, Affordability, Resilience and Outlook. The selected city and its peers, which usually number between five and fifteen, then appear highlighted on the map. While often peers are geographically proximate (i.e., within the same general region of the country), sometimes a peer search can yield surprising results. The PCIT will also present the user with data from the peer cities and a table of key variables that were used to identify the group. In addition, the tool generates peer group median values for each variable, as well as the median for all 300 cities in the dataset, enabling comparison across and within the cities. This perspective can provide further context, especially in identifying areas in which the subject city might deviate from its peers, which can serve to highlight particular challenges or opportunities. Users can also select variables to graph or chart, providing a useful visual. All data and images can be exported, and the full underlying dataset of 300 cities and 28 indicators is available for download.

Peer cities are grouped along four key themes, allowing users to explore a variety of potential peers. These themes are designed in response to key areas of concern voiced by city leaders following more than 200 interviews across ten cities as part of the Industrial Cities Initiative and other place-based research.

  • Equity addresses questions regarding inclusion, access, and diversity using the wage-based Gini coefficient, race and ethnicity-based dissimilarity indices, changes in poverty levels, and educational attainment. City leaders cited challenges of creating and implementing inclusive growth strategies that attract new businesses and jobs to their cities, while creating policies that allow marginalized populations to benefit from these new opportunities. The PCIT uses the wage-based Gini coefficient (as opposed to the income-based coefficient more frequently used) to focus on wage-earning workers who have been employed for the full year.
  • Resilience speaks to issues related to economic diversification by considering current conditions and trends in manufacturing employment, labor force participation, and unemployment. Many cities experienced economic shocks during the Great Recession, but had experienced decline along these measures during the preceding decades as well. Economic diversification and labor force conditions provide broad insights into areas of vulnerability and strength.
  • The Outlook theme explores signs of a city’s demographic and economic future by incorporating immigration, family composition, age structure and changes in total population. The age distribution of a population, net migration, and family composition provide clues about a city’s future. Cities experiencing unusual demographic shifts may look to peers undergoing similar shifts, and identify common non-demographic factors such as employment and educational opportunities.
  • Housing speaks to issues of affordability by incorporating data relating to home ownership (income-to-home value ratio and homeownership rate) and renting (rent burden), the quality and competitiveness of housing stock by using the age of housing as a proxy, and housing vacancies. Providing competitive housing affordable and attractive to both renters and buyers was a primary discussion point among surveyed community leaders. Demand for housing is captured indirectly by the vacancy rate and the age of housing stock, while the relationship between homeownership, rent burdens and housing affordability can be associated with broader economic conditions in a city.


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