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Transcript - Come to your Census Demystifying and Accessing Census Data - Jan 16 2019

Webinar: Come to your Census Demystifying and Accessing Census Data

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Librarian: Welcome, everyone, to the Come to Your Census-- Demystifying and Accessing Census Data webinar. My name is Taylor Leigh, and I am the liaison librarian to the School of Public Policy and Administration here at Walden.

As the name of this webinar implies, this is designed to make students in all program levels and all degree levels feel more confident about accessing census data. So census data is incredibly valuable and elucidating for a wide variety of research topics. But if you're like me, the prospect of actually going in and manipulating the various data tools at the website is a little overwhelming. So if that's your case or if you have not yet tried to use census data, you're in good company here.

Today we will discuss the census generally and then look at a few different ways to extract census data. My hope is that by the end of this presentation you will feel comfortable using the data tools on or, at the very least, that you will know where to go for additional help.

So with that being said, let's take a look at our objectives. So first off, we're going to just talk a little bit about the census, what it is, and what it does. Then we're going to talk about some of the most commonly utilized census tools and surveys. And finally, we're going to go into the website and show a few different examples of how you can extract information from We'll talk specifically about these two tools, American FactFinder and Quick Facts.

So a very brief history of the census-- it has been active since 1790. That was the first census, and it was administered under then secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. And it is something that is mandated in the US Constitution and also codified in the US Code.

The way that the census has operated and collected its data has changed over the years as the US population has changed. It was first mechanized in 1890. Before that, it was all done just through writing. And before the Census Bureau, who now administers all census surveys, was created in 1902, previous to that it was performed by the US Marshals.

So here we have the mission statement of the Census Bureau. It is to serve as the nation's leading provider of quality data about its people and economy. And it collects its data in a variety of ways. The first census that we'll talk about is the one that most of us probably think about, and that's the decennial census. And that's a census that is administered every 10 years and gives us population and housing counts for all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the island areas.

We also have the economic census which measures the nation's economy every five years. We have the census of government, which is an internal census that provides data about state and local governments. We have the American Community Survey, and that's one that we'll talk a bit more about. This is an ongoing annual survey that gives us the most up-to-date information about the country. And then we have a handful of other kinds of surveys like demographic surveys, economic surveys, and sponsored surveys.

So how is census data used? It's used for all kinds of things-- for population estimates and projection; to determine political representation in the House of Representatives; generally to determine where resources should be allocated; for economic indicators; geographic boundary information; data visualizations, which we'll see some examples of later; and, of course, for scholarly research as well.

So this graphic here gives you a sense of how the census divides the country up. This image shows the four regions, Northeast, Midwest, South, and West, and then within those four regions there are nine divisions. And these categories are called geographies, and that's a term that census uses to talk about all of their various geographic areas that they provide data about.

So we start with the nation at the top. Then we go to regions, divisions, states, counties, and then from counties, census tracts, block groups, and blocks. So this terminology becomes really important when you go into and you're wanting to locate data for a particular geographic area.

So here's another graphic that illustrates the same hierarchy. You'll notice one thing. If you're looking along this central column, you don't see a category for cities or towns, and that's because cities or towns are actually located-- they're denominated by this term places which is housed under states. So you would have to know that before you go onto or you might be very confused and wonder why you can't get data for a particular town or city. We'll see some examples of that a little later on.

And just one more graphic here showing the very smallest geographic areas that the census uses. The block forms part of a block group which goes into a census tract, and above that level we go to counties. If you want more information, you can you can click on this link that I've included down here at the bottom of this slide.

And now let's talk a bit about that American Community Survey, which is one of the surveys that the census administers. This is the largest ongoing national survey for population and housing estimates. It's distributed monthly via telephone and the mail, in-person visits. And the data from this survey is released twice annually. And it's really great because in a lot of ways it makes the long form of the decennial census redundant because it collects a lot of that information and we don't have to wait until 2020 to get information about a particular place right now.

So it provides one- and five-year estimates. Those one-year estimates are only for geographic areas with populations of 65,000 people or more, so keep that in mind. The earliest American Community Survey data available on is from 2005. So if you do want some earlier data, there are ways to go about that, and I have a slide on that a bit further on.

So as you can see, the main categories of information that the ACS collects is social, economic, demographic, and housing. And some example categories within these broader categories would be educational attainment, language spoken at home, age, race, poverty status, so on and so forth. So there are over 35 topics that give you access to over a thousand tables, and this adds up to over 11 billion estimates.

This table here shows the kinds of information you can get through the ACS. Again, if you want all of the various estimates that it can provide, you'll need to be looking at a geographic area of 65,000 people or more. Once you get below that, you're a bit more limited. When you get below 20,000, you can only get those five-year estimates.

So on the website there are a handful of tools that you can use to find the particular information you're looking for. Of these tools, American FactFinder and Quick Facts are probably going to be your best bets unless you have a very specific information need. So if you do need information about a particular congressional district, you'll want to use the My Congressional District tool. And if you're looking for economic indicators or if you're interested in small businesses and you want to know where would be the best place to locate your business, the Census Business Builder is good for that. There's also a population clock and an economic indicators tool. And you can read more about the various tools at your disposal by clicking on these links at the bottom of the slide.

So before we go in and see how we can extract some data, I just wanted to show you really briefly two types of profiles that you can pull on I'm talking about these two at the very top, data profiles and narrative profiles, and I want to particularly emphasize narrative profiles. These are very easy-to-read, brochure-style documents that you can generate through that display information on a particular geography or a combination of geographies in a readable paragraph form with really nice data visualizations embedded in there. So this is very different from the types of data tables that you would normally access through

So it's a really good idea if you're ever wanting to extract information on a particular place to go ahead and look at the narrative profile of that place first. And that will just give you a very good overview of what's going on in that geography, and it might give you some ideas of what areas you want to focus on in terms of your information search within that area.

Data profiles, on the other hand, are very similar. They're going to give you the same categories of data that the narrative profiles do, but they will be in the traditional spreadsheet or table format. So it's just not as visually appealing.

So with that being said, I'm going to hop over to the website, which you can see right here. When you come here, you want to come up to the Explore Data tab and then Explore Data Main. And from here, you can see right up here at the top we have access to American FactFinder.

This says Preview New Data Experience. That's because the census is transitioning to a new platform. They haven't done so yet, but they already have that site up and running, so you can you can use that as well. And then finally we have Quick Facts over here.

So let's first go into American FactFinder. I'm sorry, let's first go into Quick Facts. So when you click on Quick Facts, this is what you'll be presented with. You can see it's already giving you data on this initial page about the United States. You can come over here and see what geography this is talking about. So it gives you all kinds of information like population, age and sex, race, population characteristics, housing, so on and so forth.

But if you're interested in a particular place-- so let's say Denver. You can enter it in over here, and you have two options to choose from, Denver City and Denver County. You want to make sure you choose the city. Even though it's not technically called Denver City, that's how it tells you that it's talking about Denver the city. And when you do that, it's going to automatically add this to our table down here so you can start comparing these data points to the national data points.

Let's say we were interested in the average commuting time in Denver. You're a city planner. You're trying to resolve some traffic issues, and you want to see what that average commute time is. You go into the Select a Fact menu, and then for this one we'll go all the way down to transportation, and there's only one option here. It says Mean Travel Time to Work in minutes. So we'll select that, and then it's going to display that particular data point right up here at the top. So it gives you the average for Denver right here, 25.3, and the national average of 26.4.

Now you also have these options over here. So for example, if you wanted to see this in map form, you could go to map, select Denver. This is going to show you a map of Colorado. And since Denver is a place, it's going to show you other places within Colorado, and you can just scroll over them to see the average commute time.

You can also display this information in a chart form. And then if you come over here to Dashboard, this kind of gives you a sampling of all the different visualization tools. So you have that basic table on the left, the map to the right, and then the chart over here as well.

And if we wanted to, we could continue adding other geographies. So let's just add Atlanta, Georgia, and then it'll just continue to add these to the table that we've already set up. And you can get rid of some of these by clicking on that X next to each name.

So that is Quick Facts. Let me go back. Now I'm going to go to American FactFinder. This is probably going to be the most comprehensive tool, probably your best bet depending on what you're looking at.

But this is the American FactFinder home page. These are the four different options you have to go in and locate data that you want to extract. Community Facts is very easy to use. You can just type in a place name. It will generate information for you much like those narrative profiles. Guided Search we'll come back to in a minute. I want to go first to the Advanced Search.

So I was in here doing some searching earlier, so I still have some selections up here. So first thing I want to do is clear all of these selections and start fresh. And the first thing I want to show you how to do is get one of those narrative profiles.

So I'm going to come to geographies, and it's always a best bet when you come into the Advanced Search, you have this screen. And you can just start typing a topic in here like poverty and then a geography over here and press Go. That's perfectly fine to do.

What I would recommend doing, however, is to start with this Geographies tab. That will let you select the geography you're interested in, and then you can come back and add the particular variables that you're interested in.

So I'm going to go to Geographies, and in this list menu I'm going to select All Geographic Types. And now when I open this menu, it gives me that hierarchy, a more detailed hierarchy of all of the geographies I have access to.

So let's say we wanted to pull information about Atlanta, Georgia. So Atlanta, Georgia is a city, so that would be classified as a place, and you want to select whatever geography you want information about. So I wouldn't select State and then assume I'll be able to then select Atlanta. I want to scroll all the way down to Place right here. Select Place, and then it's going to ask me to select the state, Georgia. And then below that it's going to give me all of the places within Georgia, so all of the towns and cities.

So I'm going to come down here to Atlanta, Atlanta City, and then I click Add to Your Selections. And when you do that, you'll see that geography pop up up here in the Your Selections box. That's like your shopping cart for

And once that loads, I'll show you how to get that narrative profile. The census site, unfortunately it can be pretty slow. But the files that it is extracting right now are pretty large, so that's why. This should be coming up in just a second here.

So sorry that took a second, but now we see Atlanta City up here on the top left. And from there we can come out of the Geographies tab into topics, and this is where you select the variables that you want to look at. With this particular case, we want to see those narrative profiles. So we come to Product Type. Open that menu. And then you'll see Data Profile here and Narrative Profile here. So that's where you access these. I'm going to click Narrative Profile. Close the menu. And then I will select this first option.

And it is generating the narrative profile for us right now, and here we go. So it gives you a bunch of information about Atlanta, households and families, nativity and foreign born, all with these really nice graphics that make it really easy to understand-- language, geographic mobility, so on and so forth. So it's just a great overview of a place, and it's a really good starting point for points of interest within a particular geography that you can then choose to look into further. You can bookmark these. You can download them. You can print them out, all kinds of things. So the data profiles that we also saw, those are going to give you the same information but not in this nice, compact, easy-to-read form.

So now I want to go back. That was how you find narrative profiles. Now I want to do something much more macro level. I want to compare rural and urban areas by income. I want to look at income by rural and urban areas.

So to do that, we're going to again start in the Geographies tab. This time we're going click over to the Name tab. And this is a very specific example, so that's why I wanted to show you because you might want to look at urban versus rural. But to do that, you have to know how to get that information. So scroll down in this menu and click on Show Geographic Components. And it says right here, for example, urban, rural.

So we're going to do that. And once we do, over here on the right we see all of the categories of urban. And this is the main urban entry right here. So I'm going to select that by checking that box and then click Add. It's going to add it to our selections.

And then I'm going to proceed to the next page of results because you can see there's a lot of different categories within this broader category of urban. So we have to get past those. And once we do, we find the main entry for rural as well. So I'm going to add that so that they're both in my selections.

And now we're going to get out of this Geographies tab. We're going to come into Topics because we want to see how income compares across these geographies. So we're going to come into People, Income and Earnings. And then you have Income by Household and Income by Individuals. Just go ahead and select Income by Households. And then you can close this menu and view the available data tables at your disposal.

If you're ever curious, when you have this list of tables, you don't know which one you want, you can always click over here on this eye icon, and this is going to show you the data that the table will display. It's not going to actually put the data in there yet. It's just showing you what you're going to see once you do generate that table. So that's a really helpful feature.

Let's do this one, this first one. So one thing you can do, you can check it over here and then click View. That's one way to get to it. You can also just click on that title.

So this is the table, and this is a very typical table that you might generate on You can see that it provides estimates up here and then margins of error. So it gets a bit cumbersome with all of this data. So you might want to modify this table to suit your needs. And you can do that by clicking this Modify Table option. And then you're going to see these funnel icons down here.

So if I click this one, I can select the categories of data I want to see. So if I don't want to see those margin of errors, I'll just select estimates. Press OK, and now I'm just seeing estimates.

And let's say I don't want to see data for all of these different kinds of households. I only want to see data about-- let's do nonfamily households. So I can do that, and then my table gets much smaller, much more simple. So you do have the ability to modify the table. And if you ever do something that you want to undo, you can click the Reset Table button. It will tell you that it's going to reset it. You click OK, and then you're back to your original table.

Now let's look at percentages of people without health insurance in a particular census tract. So that might be one information need you have. For this one-- so we've seen list. We've seen name. We're going to go all the way over to the map feature.

So this will give you a map, and up here in this search bar you can enter in whatever geography you're interested in. So I'm going to look at Lawrenceville, Georgia. And I type that in. It takes me to a map of Lawrenceville.

Now I want to see exactly where Lawrenceville is because it's kind of hard to tell from this map. So I'm going to come over here to this Boundaries icon, and this is where you can tell it what kinds of boundaries you want to see on this map. So I want to see, since Lawrenceville is a place, I want to see place boundaries, and I also want to see-- let's see. I also want to see census tracts because we're going to be looking at health-insurance coverage for specific census tracts.

So once you've selected that, now we're seeing boundaries. These red boundaries or the darker boundaries are for census tracks. And then it's kind of hard to see, but there is a sort of yellowish outline that shows the boundary of Lawrenceville.

Now we want to go in and select a few of these census tracks to compare. So to do that, we'll click up here on the Select icon. You have to tell it what geographic type you want to select. So we're going to select Census Tracks. We're going to do so with this point tool. There are a few other ways you can select your geographies, but this is helpful here.

And so now I'll just come over here. I will click in this one. I'll just click. I'll select a few different census tracts within Lawrenceville. These are some of the main census tracts in Lawrenceville, and now I'm going to say Add to Your Selections. So we see those pop up over here.

So now once we do that, we see the geographies that we have selected. They highlight that. We can close the geographies overlay, and now we'll come into topics again. This is the general process. Select your geography first, then come into topics.

So we're looking at insurance coverage. So we're going to go to People, Insurance Coverage. And then there's only one option here, and that's Health Insurance. So we're going to click on that, and then close out of here, and these are our available tables.

I'm going to select this first one. This is going to generate a data table for us. And with this data table, I'm going to show you how you can create a map from this data.

So this is all of your data right here. Again, you can modify this table however you see fit if you want to get rid of some of these columns. I want to come up here and click Create a Map because I want to see a visualization of these census blocks and which ones have the most health-insurance coverage. So when I do that, it says Click on a data value in the table to map.

So then I come down here, and whatever category of data that I want to see, that's what I select. So for example, if I want to see the percentages of uninsured people in these particular census block groups, I'm going to click on this bit of data right here because it says percent uninsured for this particular census tract, but that's going to generate the other ones as well. So I'm going to select that.

It's going to tell me that it's going to create a map. I say Show Map. And then once I do, it creates a map like this color coded so that we can see what census block has the highest percentage of uninsured people. And it looks like it's this one right here, the one that's darkest, and you have a legend over here to help you interpret the map. So that can be a really helpful feature. So let me clear out my selections here.

Now I want to take you to the Guided Search that we mentioned earlier. This is another way that you can get census data. It's really personal preference. I prefer the Advanced Search because I find it lets me be much more precise about what information I want. However, this is a good option too. It's very intuitive.

So it's first going to ask you, OK, what are you looking for information about-- so people, housing, business, a particular data set, so on and so forth. I'm looking for information about people, so I'm going to say Next.

Then it asked you about particular topics you're interested in. So let's say we were looking at poverty status in the past 12 months by region. So from this list we would select Poverty. You have a couple of options. I'm just going to select the General Poverty topic and click Next.

Now what geographies do we want? So we just want to look at the regional level. So I'm going to select a region here, and I want to see for all four regions. So I select them all, add them to my selections. Click Next.

Now it's asking you about race or ethnic groups. So you don't have to select anything here if you're not looking at a particular race, but you can if you are. So I'm going to go in here. I'm going to select down here at the bottom white, not Hispanic or Latino. That'll be our racial group here. And then you click next, and it gives you a list of results.

So I'm going to go into this first one here, and it'll just be a very similar experience to what we've seen so far. It'll give you this data table. You can add or remove geographies as you see fit. You can bookmark it. You can download it. We can create a map again. Let's go ahead and do that.

Select a data value. I'm going to select just these estimates. OK, Show Map, and here we have our map. So again, we're at the regional level, so these are very large geographic areas, and it looks like the highest percentage of white people with a poverty status in the last 12 months is in the Southeast.

So that concludes the data tools that I wanted to show you on We navigate back over here to our PowerPoint So you can access data for roughly the past 20 years I believe, more or less, on

If you want anything older, that is considered historical census records. There's a few different places you can go for this. The National Archives and Records Administration, that's the government agency who is officially in charge of historical census records, but there are other commercial sources as well such as the National Historical Geographic Information System. That is a very useful tool. It's run out of the University of Minnesota, I believe.

And there are a lot of other census-related apps and tools that you can use. So this first one, Census Reporter, this is not officially affiliated with the US Census, but it does use its data, and it just tries to make the process of finding and extracting data more user friendly. So you might consider checking that out.

This next one, the Area Deprivation Index, this was created by the Health Resources and Services Administration. It's intended primarily for county-level use, but it can be refined and adapted to the census-block level. It allows for rankings of neighborhoods by socioeconomic status in a region of interest. So it's mainly for public-health uses.

And then there's also something called OnTheMap for Emergency Management, and this is a data tool that gives a web-based interface for accessing US population and workforce statistics for areas being affected by natural disasters.

And finally, I don't think I included it here. The new platform that I mentioned previously that census is moving to, that is going to be called-- the URL, rather, is And that's still currently in beta, so not all of the census data sets are available there yet, but that is the platform that they will be moving to in the future.

So that concludes what I wanted to cover. If you do need more help with the census, you can always contact myself or the library. I have my personal email down there at the bottom, You can also submit a question through the Ask a Librarian feature on the library's website. If you're a doctoral student, you can schedule a capstone appointment with a liaison librarian in your subject area.

But if you're on the census website and especially if you're trying to do something very technical, they have some really great resources, help resources and tutorials. I've linked a few of these up here, their Training and Workshops page. Also this email address-- you can send them a question. They're really good about getting back to you. And then if you have questions specifically about the American Community Survey, you can use this second email address here, or you can phone in a question using this phone number.

So that concludes the census webinar. Thank you so much for joining me. And if you have any questions about census, feel free to reach out. I'm more than happy to help you. So thank you, everyone, and have a good day.