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What Can We Learn From Census Data?

by Garrett Harper | Jul 19, 2011
The U.S. Census is one of the marvels our Founding Fathers bestowed on our nation. The U.S. has unfailingly carried out the endeavor since 1790, when it was first enshrined by the Constitution as the means for establishing data for decennial redistricting. The 20th century, in particular, saw much expansion in the role and scope of data collection by the Bureau of the Census. Currently, many citizens are wondering when the 2010 data are going to be released. This time around, the answer may require a little more explanation.

Over the past decade, the Census Bureau has inaugurated the American Community Survey. The survey is designed to fulfill much of the sample-driven activity that was achieved through the familiar “long form” that previously went only to some households. In other words, for most practical purposes, we now have virtually an annual version of Census data. Data from the 2009 survey are currently available, and the 2010 data will be released shortly. There will also be even greater granularity emerging as the survey gains more and more data to bolster small geography treatment. The long release schedule following a 10-year Census is, in many ways, a thing of the past. The few data items that truly are determined from counting every person (age, race and ethnicity, gender, and type of housing) are already being published and used to begin redistricting processes (

The scope of Census activity is tremendous. It offers an incredible source of knowledge and insight for the nation’s private sector, in particular as it understands the makeup of people, housing, economy and innumerable topics of life in this country. The work of repackaging, interpreting and using the resources of the Census is an ongoing process that benefits the business community in very important and tangible ways. Businesses can use Census statistics to improve their profitability and efficiency, and to better understand their markets. Savvy business owners can also use information gleaned from the Census to gauge competition, calculate market share, evaluate the best locations for new or expanded operations, and seek new financing.
Category: General


  1. 3 Cade 07 Apr
    Dear Director Groves: The data from the census must be reported at the lowest level of detail failure to present the basic detail destroys the integrity of the data collection system. Yes we need a detailed description at the individual level. The user must be able to collect the data that is needed for his/her problem. I need the numbers on all Males of Polish decent who have a house and wife and kids. I need to know if they are working. I need to know where they live. Only access to the data base for a census year at the lowest level of detail will give me the capability to collect available entries. Yes I need to answer my question and not look to answers from your questions. Parameters should define the entries I need in my question. Your perspective of the census data base is useless. We need the data (i.e., detail) to construct our own summaries. Thank you.Louis Zrebiec, Ph.D.
  2. 2 jxctbj 04 Apr
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  3. 1 Soumya 30 Mar
    Why not expand the web site test to the einrte country and see how it goes, at least use if for comparison. If you simply sent a serial number to the addressees to submit on-line, that would have made the pre-census notice worth something. The respondents could have been left off the larger official mailing and ignored by the million employees on the ground. I don't see any value in the information provided by the pre-letter except that it brought me to this web site. I didn't need this site except to research the strange decisions that it seems are being made. I have yet to find a single valid argument for not allowing the Census on-line. Can you provide an in-depth explanation for that decision?Regarding use of the internet you say, The Census Bureau needs to stay on top of these developments to fulfill its mission to the taxpayers efficiently and that phone apps and such are the way of the future, but you are not using the much cheaper tools that are available. Ignoring the internet as a method to collect information because there is no way to secure the data simply isn’t true. A more secure Census could likely have been made by sending a post card with a serial number. Sending out a notice that the Census is coming is a total waste. Directing people to a web page and providing the wrong address (instead of fixed by the web site is wrong for so many reasons. That address should have been allowed to work instead of redirecting.The pre-letter directs everyone to a web site if they need assistance. How are those who don’t have internet supposed to get assistance?I fill out a Census for my town every year. Why isn’t one Census enough? Even if information is only collected for Town, State or Federal, why aren't they combined?Using the internet would have provided an opportunity to eliminate some of that waste; instead we are paying for a mailing to the einrte country that has no value. Instead of using the internet to avoid mailing costs (to and from respondents) and the data entry expenses (which will likely far exceed mail costs) you’re using snail mail. How many trees did you kill? I’m sorry I don’t get it! The million Census employees who are going to be walking around could have benefitted from the knowledge collected through early internet responses. The questions are so simple and so basic; I just don't get the huge waste wrapped up in the process! I don’t understand!