FAQs

What is Berks Vital Signs?

Berks Vital Signs is an initiative that provides critical data and information about Berks County and its communities. Community indicators tell the story of our region, helping us to clearly see our strengths and challenges and to focus our efforts to improve our region. The 80 indicators on this site track critical aspects of our state’s economy and quality of life.

Berks Vital Signs interprets the indicator information through dashboards, trend summaries, charts, graphs, and maps. Information is provided on current efforts to advance our region, as well as links to local community resources. From this foundation of objective analysis of a common set of data, we can work together to address our region’s challenges and build on our strengths.

Each measure includes a description of the indicator, a brief analysis of trends, a chart displaying trends over time, and tables providing data for the state, Berks County, Berks County Areas (Central, Northeast, South, Southeast, West, Reading city), peer counties (Chester, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Schuylkill), and the nation.

Why were those areas chosen as comparison points?

These points of comparison provide context and a reference point for looking at and interpreting Berk’s data. As much as the areas are alike, they also have different factors and characteristics impacting them. Our intention is not to rank the areas or put them in competition with one another.

Who participated in the development of Berks Vital Signs?

Berks Vital Signs was launched by the Berks County Community Foundation and Alvernia University. The Foundation consulted various stakeholders and data experts throughout the county for their guidance during its development. CGR (Center for Governmental Research) coordinated creation of the website and provided the data and analysis.

What is an indicator?

An indicator is a measure that helps to describe an economic, environmental, social, or cultural condition over time. An indicator is often expressed as a rate or percent, such as the poverty rate, the unemployment rate, or the air quality index.

How did you select the indicators?

We studied a list of available indicators and, with assistance from local experts in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, determined which ones would be most significant to highlight important trends and issues in our area.

What criteria do you use when selecting a community indicator?

Center for Governmental Research suggests that the criteria include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • The data should be available and relatively easy to access.
  • It should be reliably and consistently tracked over multiple years, ideally updated at least annually.
  • The data should be understandable to both the general public and key decision-makers.
  • The indicator should reflect broad community goals and be tied to critical issues the region is attempting to address. Positive changes in the indicator data should reflect progress in addressing key issues and achieving desired outcomes.
  • Data for the indicator should be available for multiple geographic areas (for example, all counties in a state) and should be available for the state and/or nation so that reasonable comparisons can be made to help put the data in context.
  • As a set, the indicators selected should ideally include both leading and lagging indicators.
  • In addition, only indicators that provide community-wide data relating to outcomes should be considered for inclusion; for example, data pertaining only to individual agencies or programs, and that could not be collected and analyzed for the larger community, should typically not be considered for inclusion.

Where does the data come from?

Much of the data comes from existing sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, state and federal government agencies, and universities. No “primary data collection” was performed, meaning that all data shown on the site was collected by another source, often a state or federal agency. You can find the data source for each indicator on the data table and charts provided for that indicator. Raw numbers were converted to rates and dollars were adjusted for inflation to provide a reasonable basis for comparisons.

Why is some of the data several years old?

In gathering data for Berks Vital Signs, the Center for Governmental Research balanced desires for accuracy, completeness, and timeliness. Some data are available every year and regularly and quickly updated.  Other datasets take longer to update, so the data on the website contains the most recent data, but may be 2-3 years old.

How often will the data be updated?

The Center for Governmental Research will provide Berks Vital Signs with the most timely information available, updating indicators on an ongoing basis.

Are there other regions with community indicators projects?

Over 1,000 communities around the world have undertaken indicator initiatives. Quality of Life in Jacksonville: Indicators for Progress, was started over 20 years ago in Jacksonville, FL. Indicator projects have been established in large regions like Southern California (population 17.1 million) and in small ones like Burlington, VT (population 39,000). Some other notable examples include Boston, MA, Spartanburg, SC, and Toronto and Ottawa, Canada.