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No April Fooling: The Census Bureau Counts on Its New Web-Delivery System

Posted On April 1, 2001
Unless you've been avoiding the media lately, you've probably noticed the onslaught of coverage of Census 2000 information. Most local papers have carried special articles or sections with state and local information, and some have additional Web links. USA TODAY has started coverage and has a special Web section (http://census.usatoday.com).

Yes, the Census Bureau is now releasing a wealth of statistics from Census 2000. In late December 2000, it released state population totals and last month began to release race and ethnicity data that are used for state redistricting. The entire process will continue for several years. The Census Bureau's primary method for releasing data from Census 2000 is electronic—Internet, CD-ROM, and DVD. On the Internet since March 1999, American FactFinder (http://factfinder.census.gov) now offers easy access to Census 2000 data, the latest economic census, the American Community Survey, and the 1990 population census. The Census Bureau claims that the amount of data, cross-tabulated by a variety of subjects, is unprecedented.

According to the bureau, about 90 percent of the census results were in print in 1990, but only 10 percent of Census 2000 data products will be available in that form. "Our goal is to make the voluminous demographic and economic statistics collected by this agency easy to find and use for everyone, from novices to experts, by putting them all in one place," said Paula Schneider, the agency's principal associate director for programs. "We are launching a new era in the dissemination of Census Bureau statistics."

According to a press release from the bureau, the massive data sets show population counts for 63 race categories. These include those who reported in 57 categories of two or more races, as well as counts for the Hispanic population and the population not of Hispanic origin cross-tabulated by the same 63 race categories. These tabulations will be repeated for people 18 and over. All the tables will be available for the nation's 50 states, 3,232 counties and county equivalents, 50,161 places and county subdivisions, 66,304 neighborhoods (census tracts), and 8.3 million blocks. This information is giving reporters and editors many opportunities to develop stories targeted to local areas, as well as to their states and the nation as a whole.

Gary Price, of Direct Search fame and a columnist for Searcher, called American FactFinder "one of the most useful tools on the WWW and the Invisible Web," and noted that it will be adding additional functionality as more Census 2000 data is released.

"The best may be yet to come," said Schneider. "For example, we're working on a feature that would allow a user to type in their address, find their census tract number, then get a demographic profile and map for the tract, which is the equivalent of a neighborhood."

The American FactFinder site offers a tour, FAQs, context-sensitive help, a glossary of terms, tutorials, and easy navigation. There are even training materials available in Microsoft PowerPoint format for downloading. There's also a special Kid's Corner that offers fun facts about the states and games.

The Census 2000 Brief series is providing the first analysis of Census 2000 population and housing topics to the public. The Briefs discuss the most important aspects of the topics and explore the geographic distribution of the subject matter.

Briefs issued last month include the following: Congressional Apportionment Based on Census 2000 Race and Hispanic Origin Distribution in the United States Increasing Diversity in the United States Population: 1990-2000

Briefs to be issued this month include the following: Population Distribution in the United States Population Change in the United States: 1990-2000 The White Population in the United States The Black Population in the United States The Two or More Races Population in the United States

Other briefs planned for a June release include coverage of gender, age distribution, and housing topics.

It's definitely worth taking the time to become familiar with the American FactFinder site. There's a wealth of information available and the Census Bureau folks have obviously worked hard to improve access for everyone. American FactFinder was developed under contract with the Census Bureau by IBM Global Services Corp., the principal contractor (responsible for systems architecture, design, data warehouse, and integration), and Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (mapping applications).

Finally, one tidbit I picked up on the Special Libraries Association NewsLib list (with thanks to Liz Donovan of The Miami Herald) is a site that helps journalists and others with the issue of comparing "multiracial" data. Stephen Doig at Arizona State University has made a study of this and has a discussion of his and others' suggestions at his Reporting Census 2000 Web site at http://cronkite.pp.asu.edu/census. Look under Use the Data—Race tabulations.


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