Climate change will not impact everyone equally. Due to structural and personal inequalities built into our society, like poverty or racism, different social groups experience greater and lesser levels of disruption from extreme weather, chronic heat and other climate change effects. This is also what many organizations refer to as sensitivity to climate change. Generally, communities of color with fewer socioeconomic resources and less access to services are more socially vulnerable, but there are many other factors that affect vulnerability — such as age, physical disabilities, and the strength of local social networks. Recognizing and addressing that populations who experience discrimination and structural inequality are also under greater threat from climate change is a major focus of the climate justice movement, and of the Center for Resilient Metro-Regions.
Here are the factors we consider when assessing social vulnerability:
Median home value - an indicator of socioeconomic status that focuses on wealth rather than income; also describes housing quality and resilience to hazards
Percent of population under 5 years old and over 65 years old - young children and the elderly are less mobile during disasters, and have higher burdens of care for their family or healthcare institutions afterwards
Percent female - due to wage inequalities and family care responsibilities, women can experience greater difficulty during recovery
Race (as percent nonwhite) - these populations can experience cultural barriers in their access to care, resources, and political processes, and are often spatially concentrated in high-risk neighborhoods
Percent Latino - Latino populations are categorized by ethnicity, rather than race, in the US Census--but they face similar barriers to those described above.
Percent speaking English as a second language with limited English proficiency - linguistic isolation creates similar barriers to those faced by populations of color
Percent in poverty - poorer populations have fewer financial resources to recover from a disaster, and can have less access to insurance and other social support
Percent housing units with no access to a vehicle - creates reduced mobility during a disaster, and causes greater dependence on public transportation which may be shut down or overcrowded during and after disasters
Percent of housing units occupied by renters - renters are often (but not exclusively) short-term residents or lacking in financial resources for homeownership; transience can imply less access to or information about recovery services, and fewer resources reduces recovery ability
Length of occupancy in neighborhood - populations with longer tenures in a neighborhood often enjoy stronger social support networks that can provide immediate assistance during and after disasters, and complement access to formal support structures; the opposite can be true for more recent residents.