Valentine’s Day – Is Your Heart Devoted to Population Statistics?

Probably not – but I’m sure you can impress your significant other with some of the following statistics on the consumer market surrounding Valentine’s Day:

  • All that delicious chocolate that warms the heart and expands the waistline comes from 1,177 U.S. manufacturing establishments and they employ 34,252 people.  California leads the nation with 135 establishments followed by Pennsylvania with 111.  Aren’t there any big produces in the heartland?
  • The 2009 value of shipments of chocolate and chocolate products was $12.6 billion.
  • It’s a good thing we don’t eat it all on Valentine’s Day because the per capita consumption of candy in America was 24.7 pounds in 2010.
  • 17,124 florists employ 75,855 people and help deliver $375 million of domestically produced cut flowers – and that’s just the wholesale value!
  • Retail jewelry stores number about 25,000 and in February of 2011, just one month, they sold $2.27 billion in merchandise. I imagine a good portion of that merchandise included engagement rings to seal the deal on the nearly 6,000 marriages that occur every data on average (that’s 2.1 million for the year 2009).

These are just a few of the plethora of population and economic statistics that come out of the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies.

The Census Bureau newsroom does a great job of providing data and alerts to what’s coming out through their Tip Sheets and Facts for Features.  If you’re a data junkie, you can subscribe to their feeds and have a regular diet of demographic data.

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Finding Demographic Facts with the New FactFinder!

Believe it or not, the U.S. Census Bureau has been a real innovator in technology since <a href=““>Herman Hollerith</a> patented the first automated tabulation machine.  And guess where he was when he applied for the patent?  – yep, the U.S. Census Bureau.  See, the Census Bureau needed a better way of counting the 1890 census and this was a huge step in the technology of taking and reporting on the Census – it took a full year just to do the counting!

Technology of census taking didn’t stop there but moved steadily to the development of the first HUGE mainframe computers, optical scanning, devices, the first data driven CD-ROM, mapping and geographic identification, and now, a second generation in providing internet access to literally billions of cells of census data.

In the 1990’s the Census Bureau realized they couldn’t continue printing huge volumes of paper to report on the results of the 2000 census.  After years of development and collaboration with many private vendors and user groups, American FactFinder was born and has been the nation’s primary resource for accessing census economic and demographic data.  It served that function for nearly 15 years but is now being retired for the new kid on the block – FactFinder 2!  Catchy name don’t you think?

For those of us providing census data services through the old FactFinder, this transition is a little painful.  Sometimes it really is tough to teach old dogs new tricks.  The interface is different, the terminology is different, the access process is different – but, the new system also contains a wealth of new capabilities and consolidates virtually all of the Census Bureau’s data products into one access system.

Since the new FactFinder was unveiled in January of 2011 for the release of the 2010 Census results there have been whoops and cries from data users around the country who didn’t like it.  It wasn’t intuitive (of course neither is the old one when you first access it!), the geography selection was cumbersome, and you just couldn’t find what you were looking for.  As experienced users, we wanted to go straight to the geographic areas, files, and subjects we knew were there.  After all it was so easy to get where we wanted to go in the old system.

For the last year we have moved back and forth between the two systems as they ran concurrently on Census Bureau servers.  But those days are ending.  On Sunday, January 22nd, just a year after release of the new FactFinder, our old friend will be retired.  We’ll no longer have the option to go back to the old system so all of us old dogs are going to move to a new system whether we like it or not.

Stay tuned for some tips and techniques about how to use the new system and keep that flow of census data coming.

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Disability and Aging Demographics

The end of last year I completed a project for the State offices for the aging and children and family services reviewing literature on disability trends and forecasts. It was a new area for me. While I’ve spent nearly a lifetime working with census and other demographic data and population trends, I hadn’t focused on issues related to disability. Boy was I missing a big topic!

I learned a lot about how disability is defined, how there are a multitude of different surveys that gather data on disability, and how many of those surveys used different classification schemes and questions. I learned that it’s difficult to compare trends across time and surveys and that shrinking budgets have impacted the quality of data. A big reminder that the data collection instrument and purpose really impact what meaningful conclusions can be derived.

I learned that when you couple disability trends with an aging population and rising incidence of chronic disease, you see a tidal wave approaching in terms of the needs for health care providers and the costs of that care. Ever think about the long-term consequences of rising rates of obesity and diabetes? Boy, are we going to find out as these folks age.

I’ll be looking at these data in more detail. Part of my work with the aging and children and family services agencies is to compile census data from the American Community Survey for New York State and counties. I’ll continue to post about what I find and the importance of this new (at least for me) area of interest. In the meantime, check out this post from Daily Yonder on the geography of disability. The data reported there comes from the Social Security administration and I’m interested to see how that tracks with data from the Census Bureau.

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Why do we need to estimate population?

Don’t we know how many people there are? Doesn’t Census or the IRS keep track of everyone? Well, no they don’t, and while we think the government and microsoft and facebook and google know everything about us, they don’t really. … Continue reading

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What’s the Story on State Government Finances?

Later this month, the Census Bureau will release annual statistics for 2010 that show detailed summaries of state revenues (taxes, federal aid, and lottery receipts), expenditures (highways, public benefits, parks and recreation), indebtedness, and assets. These data come from the Census Bureau’s annual survey of governmental units. Other government reports include employment, education, and retirement systems. You can get more information on government statistics here.

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Who’s Minding the Kids?

New data from the Census Bureau on child care arrangements will be released on Dec. 5. These data will report on child care arrangements of pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers according to various demographic characteristics of the employed/nonemployed mother as of Spring 2010. Different types of care reported include relative care, organized care facilities, and self-care. The data comes from the Survey of Income and Program Participation which is a nationwide survey but does not provide results for states or sub-state areas.

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New Socio-Economic Data from the ACS

New 5-year estimates of a wide range of socio-economic characteristics for small areas will be coming out soon from the American Community Survey. These data will cover the period 2006 to 2010 and update last year’s release of 2005 to 2009 data. Data will be available for every community nationwide and even for small statistical areas like census tracts. The information will cover more than 40 topics such as: educational attainment, income, occupation, commuting to work, income, poverty, language spoken and more. The public release will be on Dec. 8.

While annual small data area from the ACS is a huge new resource, it isn’t without it’s caveats. One has to be cautious in using the data for small areas because of the survey nature of the data. Remember, every survey has a measurable margin of error. You hear this all the time when polls results are reported with a +/- margin of error. The same is true for the Census data and users need to pay attention to it, particularly when comparing estimates over time or comparing one community to another. Small differences can be statistically meaningless.

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Voting Rights Act – Language Assistance Requirements

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted significant protections to guard against discrimination in voter registration. How does that relate to Census data? The census provides the benchmark of our nation’s demographic portrait including data on race and Hispanic origin, age, and language. In the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the Census Bureau was required to provide a list of jurisdictions across the nation that must provide language assistance for groups who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.

The Census Bureau released a list of 248 jurisdictions today to fulfill their legal obligation. It will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, October 13. Here is the Census Bureau’s press release.

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Good Summary of Stats for Business

Following The Census Project is an excellent way of keeping on top of issues and events of the U.S. Census Bureau. Just released is a Fact Sheet that summarizes available data related to our economy and businesses from the Commerce Dept., Bureau of Labor Statistics, and some other federal agencies.

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Census and USPS Collabortation!

Did you know that data sharing between the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the U.S. Postal Service is critical to the everyday demographic data we see from the Census?

The Census and much of it’s related data are address based. That is, in order to get accurate, complete, and detailed data on the population, the Census Bureau needs addresses. Where do they come from – you guessed it, for many areas it’s the U.S. Postal Service that is a major partner in the effort. While the Postal Service needs to know how to get mail to you, the Census Bureau needs to know exactly where your physical dwelling unit is. That creates some difficulties for rural areas and areas served by post office boxes. These types of addresses don’t help the Census Bureau much since they don’t identify where you actually reside.

But their cooperation is critical and both agencies are faced with financial issues that argue for greater efficiencies. A recent Government Accountability Office report suggests new ways in which the agencies can collaborate on cost-effective processes. You can read the report here…

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