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Trends and Outliers

TIBCO Spotfire's Business Intelligence Blog


Taking Stock of the Census

2010 Census Taking Stock of the CensusBy now, the majority of you have received and likely responded to the 2010 U.S. Census.  To see how well your own community is fairing, the Bureau has made available a near real time mashup utilizing Google maps.  This tool lets you visually explore response rates by district across the country.  The government is broadcasting interesting factoids and providing data analysis mediums such as this mashup as part of it’s broader public relations campaign to raise awareness and promote participation in the Census now underway.  This proactive multi-media approach will hopefully save millions if more individuals mail back their forms versus default to higher cost door-to-door canvassing.

Mandated by the constitution, the 10-year U.S. Census has taken place since 1790, providing one of the most critical sources for data analysis on the country’s evolving population.  Putting politics and methodology debates aside, one must admire this significant undertaking.  Originally founded to determine regional representation of congressional seats, census data is also used for a multitude of government analyses and programs – from transportation infrastructure planning to health and education policy development.  The private sector also reaps tremendous benefit from mining this information, using it for research, market strategy, operations, and more.

Those expecting rich demographic information from the 2010 Census to roll out at the end of the year might be surprised to discover a fairly simple dataset.  In 2005, the Census Bureau launched the sample-based American Community Survey (ACS) and thus bifurcated these two activities.  This year all households should have received what would be considered a Census “short form”, leaving the collection of more detailed information to the annual ACS.  Focusing the Census on its core purposes may temporarily put some individuals concerned about privacy at ease and in turn help drive greater response rates.  The ACS, however, is still run under the authorization of the overall Census program and therefore the same regulations regarding mission and participation apply.

The ACS is still in its infancy and is sure to change over time as does the population.  Many Americans are likely to not know of its existence or may confuse the survey with the decennial Census.  It is an important distinction, and one with which businesses and individuals alike should familiarize themselves.  Those that plan to or are already using these sources will hopefully factor in the varied methodologies used and their potential impact on data and trend analyses findings.

Sandy Rogers
Spotfire Blogging Team

Image Credit: US Census Bureau

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