Since its launch, the Human Needs Index (HNI) has served as a powerful tool to track human need with different indicators and less lag time than conventional government data.
The partnership between the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and The Salvation Army produces and analyzes data that is updated every three months in order to provide important information about poverty and need in the United States.
At the school, research associate Dr. Chelsea Clark and statistician Jon Bergdoll update the project regularly to reflect current need within the United States, and have done so since its 2015 launch. With the most recent update, the pair, in collaboration with The Salvation Army, decided to conduct a ‘deeper dive’ into a poverty-related issue.
“We’re using the HNI as a data tool in order to investigate a need-related question that exists and see what additional light the HNI can shine on it,” Bergdoll explained.
Dr. Clark added that they wanted to tell a story about poverty and what can be learned from the data.
“For the most current update, our school and The Salvation Army wanted to use HNI data to look at need in urban and rural areas,” she said. “However, how do you conceptualize what urban and rural mean at a state level, which is what the HNI is measured at? Most states have a mixture of both rural and urban areas.”
“After using U.S. Census Bureau data and analyzing the percent of a state’s population living in cities of 50,000 or more people (population concentration), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of landmass remoteness, which is defined as the percent of the state’s landmass that is essentially an hour’s drive or more from a city of 50,000 or more people, we were able to categorize states in three groups: non-remote, a high level of remoteness with a higher metropolitan population percentage, and higher level of remoteness with a lower metropolitan population percentage.”
“We found a high level of need in urban centers, but we also found a really high level of need in these remote areas where it can be difficult for an individual to access government services,” Dr. Clark explained. “While they can’t always access these government services, they can access services provided by The Salvation Army.”
Bergdoll noted that The Salvation Army has a lot of integration with remote communities, which explained why the HNI captured data that hadn’t previously been retrieved.
After concluding months of data collection and analysis, the launch of these new findings occurred last month in Washington, D.C. Bergdoll, along with Dr. Amir Pasic, Eugene R. Tempel dean, attended congressional briefings with The Salvation Army to inform policymakers about these results.
“I had never done that before, so it was an interesting experience,” Bergdoll said.
What are the HNI’s future plans? Dr. Clark and Bergdoll plan on continuing to update the numbers quarterly but also plan on conducting biannual ‘deeper dives’ into contemporary issues. The information will assist The Salvation Army to understand where need is so they can step in to meet those needs while also informing policy-decision making processes that alleviate poverty.
“The goal of this is to provide a useful service to researchers and people in the industry,” Bergdoll said. “When we’re able to tap into current events and related topics, we show that the HNI can provide valuable services.”