October 8, 2013

How to get census data during the government shutdown

Among the many data casualties that have resulted from the federal government shutdown is the shuttered U.S. Census Bureau website, which is critical for many people, from demographers to journalists. But with a little digging, fellow data users, we’ve found that there are still several ways to access government data.

  • First, an archived version of the Census Bureau’s site (and of other government websites as well) is available through the handy Wayback Machine internet archive. Click on the agency logo to get to the archived site, and (ignoring the message that the site is down) click on the section you are looking for. Not all features will work well, and because it is archived, the site may not have all the content that was available just before shutdown. As of yesterday, the Census Bureau’s archived site seems to have been captured in early August – at least, that’s when the latest news release appears.
  • For those who need census data from a single state, try a State Data Center—which act as state government liaisons with the U.S. Census Bureau to disseminate its data. (There is one for each state.) Although the official Census Bureau website is down, an archived version of the list of centers is available through the Wayback Machine, or you can search the internet for “state data center” or “state census data center.” Some state data centers are better than others. One of the best is the Missouri Census Data Center, which offers census data (including estimates from the recently released 2012 American Community Survey) for every state in the country.
  • For users with beginner or intermediate knowledge about statistics and census data, the Social Explorer website (distributed by Oxford University Press) is providing free access (offered for two weeks starting Oct. 4, if you request a username and password) to its current and historical census data and maps, which normally require a paid subscription to get more than basic numbers. The site has decennial census data back to 1790, and American Community Survey data through 2012.
  • For advanced users with training in statistics, there is the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), operated by the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. This website offers U.S. Census data from the decennial census back to 1850, as well as the American Community Survey (through 2011) and Current Population Survey. Because the numbers come in the form of microdata (that is, person-level records), users need to access it via statistical software such as SPSS, SAS and Stata, and be familiar with concepts such as weighted data. Some data can be accessed via an online tabulator, but that also requires some knowledge of statistical concepts. (The site’s FAQ provides more information.)
  • For journalists, there are other options, such as the beta-version of censusreporter.org and the 2010 Census data site operated by Investigative Reporters and Editors, in partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
  • The Pew Research Center also offers census data and data analysis on a variety of topics. Among them are Latino population counts for states, counties and metro areas, key demographic findings about U.S. immigrants and U.S. Hispanics and a variety of statistics about the changing American family.
  • UPDATE 10/8: For users who need census geography files, Michal Migurski at the nonprofit Code for America has posted a set of links  to a variety of national, state and local files that can be used to make maps. (Hat tip: Steven Romalewski)
  • UPDATE 10/9: For users with beginner or intermediate knowledge about statistics and census data, there is the Minnesota Population Center’s National Historical Geographic Information System, which provides census data back to 1790 (and includes the 2012 American Community Survey), as well as geographic files (called GIS boundary files) that let you map the data. To gain access, you set up a free account and ask for the data you need, which is emailed to you. (Thanks to commenter David Van Riper for recommending.)

Have you found any data resources to get around data not available because of the government shutdown? Share with us in the comments section.

Topics: U.S. Census

  1. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. tag15554 years ago

    Great info, although to play devil’s advocate for a minute, it does also unintentionally help make the GOP/TP case (made by Reps. Issa, Poe, Webster, and so on) that private foundations, universities, and state and local governments are capable of meeting data users’ needs, so federal funding for large agencies like BLS and the Census Bureau can safely be reduced with only minimal reduction to data availability.

    1. D’Vera Cohn4 years ago

      But it’s only the government—the Census Bureau—that collects the data in the first place, then processes it so that the public can have access to it. Plenty of private organizations, universities, state and local governments or others repackage census data and publish it, but there would be no data if the bureau didn’t collect it. Most of the Census Bureau’s budget goes to data collection and processing, not to publishing data.

  2. Lance4 years ago

    The Rural Data Portal, ruraldataportal.org , from the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) provides basic social, economic, and housing information for the nation, states, and counties using data from the 2010 Census of Population, 2006-2010 American Community Survey, and 2012 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

    The Rural Data Portal is targeted towards rural communities, but data for suburban and urban communties are available as well. The Rural Data Portal also provides a reliability indicator for county level estimates from the ACS.


    Thank you

  3. Klise4 years ago

    Does anyone know of any sites with 2013 year to date info? I can seem to find any archived sites with this information and I desperately need it!

  4. Dismal Scientist4 years ago

    You forgot about us!

    States in Profile and USA Counties in Profile, include more than just census data. We cover the federal data waterfront (almost).

    And it is FREE!


    1. D’Vera Cohn4 years ago

      Thanks for sending these links. In addition to publishing some of the most popular census tables, this site adds value by calculating population change for states and counties, and looking in detail at workforce/economic variables.

  5. JMorton4 years ago

    The NBER site provides access to CPS supplements, basic monthly data and documentation. SAS, SPSS and Stata data definition statements also available for some data products.

  6. Roger Green4 years ago

    Lots of linkable info; thanks.

  7. Bernie4 years ago

    There’s also PolicyMap.com, which lets users see Census data (as well as data from many other shut-down government sources) on a map. It’s free for just accessing the data.

  8. Sean4 years ago

    Quandl has Census data as well as data from 20+ US government departments and agencies — archived, accurate and available despite the shutdown: qndl.co/18tdN5Z

    1. D’Vera Cohn4 years ago

      Thanks for your suggestion. Quandl seems to focus mainly on the bureau’s economic data. I did not include it initially because I found the home page a little puzzling, but here is the FAQ that may help new users: quandl.com/help/faq

  9. Peter McDaniel4 years ago

    Thank You!

  10. Bruce Kratofil4 years ago

    For economic data, try the St. Louis Fed’s FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data)


  11. Stephen Higley4 years ago

    An excellent source for American Community Survey (2006-2010) data is USA.com. It is free and with a little manipulation, there is a wealth of info plus maps down to the block level.

  12. David Van Riper4 years ago

    The Minnesota Population Center’s National Historical Geographic Information System (nhgis.org) provides free access to historical and current aggregate census data, including the 2012 1-year American Community Survey release. It also provides GIS-compatible mapping files derived from the TIGER/Line database.