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  • First, an archived version of the Census Bureau’s site (and of other government websites as well) is available through the handy Wayback Machine internet archive.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 Although the official Census Bureau website is down, an archived version of the list of centers is available through the Wayback Machine, or you can search the internet for “state data center” or “state census data center.”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.