Issue Brief: Using Data Tools to Compare Regional Economic Well-Being in California


November 3, 2022
For Additional Information Contact:
Ethan Rarick, Executive Director
(916) 445-0926
Little Hoover Commission Highlights How Data Tools Can Shape Perceptions of Regional Economic Well-Being

Objective metrics and data tools can help the state measure, address, and track regional disparities but they can also shape perceptions of regions’ economic well-being and can offer different—even contrasting—depictions of how places are faring, the Little Hoover Commission explains in its new Issue Brief.

In the Brief, which outlines current research without making policy recommendations, the Commission surveys 11 data tools that measure and analyze how people and places are doing across California based on various indicators for economic, social, physical, and environmental well-being. The Commission further discusses how these tools can influence understanding of how well regions are doing and of the extent of disparities between them.

“California’s economy is characterized by significant inequality and large regional disparities,” noted Commission Chair Pedro Nava. “As the state seeks to address these issues, it is important state leaders and policymakers have a comprehensive understanding of what issues regions are facing.”

“Data tools play a key role in helping California confront regional inequities by providing informed, objective information on what issues exist and where, thus helping state leaders better direct resources and efforts,” added Commissioner Gil Garcetti, who served on the Commission’s subcommittee on equitable economic development.

This is the Commission’s second Issue Brief centered on regional economic development. Its first—published earlier this year—provides a preliminary compilation of major state programs and investments that can support inclusive regional development initiatives, with a focus on investments and programs that can advance inclusive development in the state’s inland and rural regions.

“The data tools identified and compiled in this Issue Brief provide insight into the health of regional economies, providing a helpful resource to state leaders and policymakers as they implement regional economic planning and development initiatives, such as the Community Economic Resilience Fund,” noted Commissioner Bill Emmerson, who also serves on the subcommittee.

In the Brief, the Commission highlights key ways in which the tools vary, such as the number of individual metrics used (ranging from four to 37) or the specificity of geographic areas covered (ranging from census tracts to large regions).

In analyzing these tools, the Commission also illustrates five ways in which data tools can shape how we perceive regional economic well-being:

  • How regional borders are delineated.
  • Which metrics are used and how similar metrics are calculated.
  • The number of metrics used, from a single metric to indices that include multiple metrics that span a variety of topics (such as economic, environment, and social).
  • The granularity of the geography covered.
  • The time of data collection, specifically looking at anomalous periods.

“We hope this Issue Brief helps state leaders better understand the different ways in which data tools can shape how we view and subsequently address regional disparities,” said Vice Chair Sean Varner.

This Issue Brief was produced as part of the Commission’s study focused on California’s efforts to close regional disparities and promote greater prosperity across the state. The Commission anticipates releasing a report on this topic later this month.

About the Little Hoover Commission

The Little Hoover Commission is America’s only permanent, independent citizens commission working to improve state government. A nonpartisan oversight agency created in 1962, the Commission includes 13 Commissioners appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders. The Commission’s mission is to investigate state operations and promote efficiency, economy, and improved service.