A Guide to the Census Bureau Site

The US Census is on a lot of minds since the 2010 census is in progress. To find out what the Census Bureau does every ten years and on a constant basis in between the major counts, a social scientists can visit the comprehensive website and find a host of ways to access data, articles, and to use tools for managing the data.

It comes as a great surprise to many people that the actual 10 year census form is very limited in the data that it collects. Much more data is collected in the American Family Survey and other special censuses and surveys that collect far more information for use in allocating resources and in supporting various scientific studies and political positions.

Data from Census Bureau surveys and special queries are used by many advanced researchers and writers to supplement polling and publicly or privately commissioned surveys.  Advanced users include the news industry, educational and governmental agencies, political organizations, industry and marketing entities and in the social and other sciences where population data and demographics are studied.

As a result, knowing how to navigate and to use the US Census Bureau site will be a powerful tool in evaluating the quality and factuality of data that ends up in news reports, journals, papers, studies, policies and articles that cite Census Bureau data.

The American Fact Finder page includes a host of information about the current census and about special census activities. There are ways to search for local and national data summaries, economic studies, search-able and customizable population figures and the activities related to the current census project.

The American Community Survey, on the fact finder page, is ongoing survey that tells what the community looks like and how it lives. This survey is sent to random subsets of the population and helps to allocate resources with more detailed and current data, in a rapidly changing world and population. This survey can be viewed in various ways, including with customizable search criterion.

The Population Finder is a database tool that has figures by rank, by state and with map overlays. This database can be searched as narrowly as by street address or as broadly as by state.

For finding more detailed information about demographics, the People page offers up all the links to getting counts for the basic population, by race, gender, veterans status, education, employment, and other factors. Age and Sex, for example, will yield a great variety of data on more than just gender!  There will be information, for example, about dependency ratios, children’s characteristics, and even males per 100 females by state!

In order to read the data more easily, there are various tables and map formats that are pre-established.  The Download Center comes with a warning: the amounts of data are huge and can overload a computer! But for advanced users who will benefit from having the data, it is a valuable tool. The Datasets page allows the decennial (10 year) census data to be viewed in a variety of customizable and pre set formats, including with maps. There is a Thematic Maps page for viewing the statistical data in relation to various map organizations and formats.

Finally, the Census site has tools. There are a variety of tools for finding data, including the Data Ferret, which is currently in beta mode. Users are being encouraged to use the beta version and to give feedback and communication before the final product is released.  The Data Ferret also has tutorials, a help desk and user guides, along with examples of reports and summaries that were generated using Data Ferret.

In summary, the US Census Bureau site is constantly a source of more than the basic demographic information that is collected every ten years. But when that data is collected, it is a massive amount of information that the average visitor could download into their computer and still have room to run software that will manage it. As a result, the site allows a wide variety of summaries and tools for getting to the information that the user wants to see!