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May 2011 Featured Article

U.S. Census Data: Powerful, Confusing and Available... (well almost!)

Triad Associates


The United State Census Bureau is one of the most comprehensive data sources for a single country in the world.  It tracks everything from ancestry to zip code data and everything in between.  In fact, sometimes the Bureau’s website seems so overwhelming that without knowledge of where or how to being your data search it can be a somewhat daunting process!

With the recent release of the 2010 Census Data, and more specifically the redistricting data for all 50 states, many communities are anxious to check out how much their community has changed over the last decade.  This article reviews a variety of “must have” information.  It will examine what is currently available, when certain additional data are scheduled for release and the valuable information available through the American Community Survey which is continuously gathered and released through the Census Bureau.  Finally, this article will examine what information should be used for federal and state grant applications.


Census 2010

2010 census data is scheduled for release now through 2013; each release peels back another layer of information and highlights the fabric of American households. The following paragraphs offer a sampling of the data to be released in the upcoming months that will be helpful in assessing the demographic and social changes over the last decade.  For more information about the data release schedule beyond 2011, visit the U.S. Census’ website at

There has been much discussion about the redistricting data released.  Under federal law (PL 94-171) the Census released the redistricting data for every state down to the block level.  The data currently released contains population counts, racial characteristics with detail for Hispanic and Latino categories and housing unit counts, including vacant and occupied units.

In May 2011, “Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics” or “Table DP-1” is scheduled for release down to the place level.  This table will include the following data: sex and age, race, relationship status, households by type, housing occupancy and housing tenure, and will provide very specific detail of the aforementioned topics in a summary format down to the “place” level. 

Summary File 1 will be released between June and August 2011.  This data will be the most detailed demographic data and will be available on the census tract and block level, including specific detailed household trends and tenure data, detailed race information, sex and age data and group quarters population details.  The level of detail of this data is absolutely astounding; the specificity of the exact household make up in a community will be enlightening and telling as to the types of programs and services that will be most beneficial for certain geographic areas.  This data will become available for urbanized and urban clusters as well as on the block level for rural areas in October 2012, and is especially important in New Jersey where urbanized areas cross state boundaries. 

The data in Summary File 1 will be provided in such great detail that a subsequent iterated release titled “Summary File 2” or “SF-2” will be released between December 2011 and April 2012.  This data will be available down to the “Census Tract” level of detail.


American Community Survey

The American Community Survey or ACS provides ongoing sampling data of demographic, social, economic and housing characteristics.  This data is provided in the form of one, three and five year estimates and are determined based on the population.  Below is the breakdown of the data available through the ACS.  Because this data is sample data, and not 100 percent data like the 2010 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau states that “The strength of the ACS is in estimating characteristic distributions.  We recommend users compare derived measures such as percents, means, medians and rates rather than estimates of population totals.”  The following table provided by the Census Bureau highlights the features of the ACS data available by population size and its strengths and weaknesses.



The 2009 ACS one-year data estimates release date has not yet been revealed, however the 2008 data is currently available.  The updated 2009 data will include specifics regarding health insurance coverage, bachelor’s field of degree, disability, marital history and additional tables regarding various topics such as origin, housing characteristics and citizenship status. 

The 2007-2009 ACS three-year estimates were released in January 2011 and provide data for larger population areas (greater than 20,000).  For this latest release several new tables were added to the three-year estimates mirroring the one-year estimates. 

The 2005-2009 ACS five-year estimates were also released earlier this year, and are especially helpful for small communities who otherwise would have waited for data since the last 10 year census to obtain updated information about their community.  The five-year estimate data is also helpful for large areas that want to analyze smaller geographic areas, such as census tract and block groups in their municipality.


Using Available Data for Grants

Now that the specific community data available have been defined, how can this data be used?  The Census released the American Fact Finder in February 201, a very powerful search engine database.  It is strongly recommended that you understand exactly what you are looking for by browsing through the available tables before you jump in since the level of detail for certain geographies is astonishing!  The new American Fact Finder is located at the following web address:

Most grant opportunities require the latest census information available.  This could mean that the applicant is using a population estimate from Census 2010 and income and employment information provided by the ACS five-year estimates.  Whatever the source, your administrator needs to ensure that they have the latest information available through the Census Bureau or other federal agencies providing statistical data.

The detail of data provided in the ACS is highly informative and will continue to highlight the characteristics of our communities.  This data helps make decisions based on needs, helps qualify communities for certain federal and state grant opportunities and identifies areas that are in need of redevelopment and development by both the public and private sector.  Be sure your census and economic data is updated on your website to inform current or potential residents, developers, employers or national organizations alike about the attributes of your community.



Triad Associates is currently the League’s Grant Consulting Firm. Their firm, which is known for its expertise in community and economic development, including strategic planning, redevelopment, acquisition, relocation and funding, has brought diverse plans and projects to life by generating more than $580,000,000 for over 120 public, private and nonprofit clients throughout the Northeast region since 1978. Every member of the Triad team is personally committed and dedicated to the success of its clients and the projects that benefit communities. 


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