Some useful acronyms
Finding data on the Census Bureau website requires navigating through a lot of jargon. These three acronyms are a basic starting place for learning what you need know:
Random Samplings: Census blog
Census Bureau Information on the Web
This set of guides gives some general information on finding Census data online, primarily on the Census Bureau web site. For more detailed instruction and tutorials, consult the sources under the Other Guides to Census Information tab.
For information on the Library's holdings in tangible form (print, microfiche, CD/DVD) see our LibGuide Census Information in the Library.
Data at Census.gov is available in a variety of formats. Much basic information is provided on normal web pages, through drop-down menus and other devices (for some data to display, Java must be enabled). More extensive files might be available for download in spreadsheet or PDF format. Electronic versions of publications such as documentation and historical reports are usually in PDF format.
What you need to know before searching for any Census data
Census data is not available instantly
As required by the Constitution, the Census Bureau conducts a complete count of residents of the U.S. every ten years. Simple counts of people in states and areas must be available by the beginning of the year following the Census because this data is used to apportion Congressional seats. The other data (income, education, etc.) generated by the Census surveys usually takes a few years to become available. This detailed data, giving social and economic characteristics of the population of small geographical areas, is usually not available until at least three years after the Census was taken.
The more detailed the statistics one searches for, the less detailed are the geographical areas for which the statistics are available. For example, in past Censuses, general population counts were published for places as small as 1,000 people. But poverty status figures were given only for places as small as 2,500. Detailed cross-tabulations of poverty status and educational level may only be given for large (more than 250,000) cities. Thus, two parameters are important when selecting a Census report to study: the kind of statistics one needs, and the geographical area of interest. For more information on Census geography, see the Special Issues tab in this Guide.
Not all data is created equal, and some isn't created at all
Information contained in the Census volumes is collected from questionnaire responses. Some basic information (e.g.: age, sex, race) is obtained from all residents, whereas other, more detailed questions (e.g.: income, education, employment status) are only asked of a sample. And some questions are not asked at all, (for example, "what is your religion?") which means that no data on these subjects is available from the Census Bureau. For more information on the importance of Census methodology, see the Comparability tab in this Guide.