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Data Resources: Census Bureau Data

Information on finding, using, citing, and managing data

Census Bureau Data

The Census Bureau, one of 13 main statistical agencies within the US government, conducts its decennial census -- which aims to count every person in the United States -- every ten years. It conducts additional surveys, such as the American Community Survey (ACS), more frequently, but on a smaller set of respondents. (The ACS surveys 250,000 households per month, around 3 million annually). The Census Bureau is also responsible for the American Housing Survey and various annual economic surveys.

The purpose of the decennial census is to determine the apportionment of US representatives, as defined in Article I section 2 of the Constitution. Census data are also used to determine the apportionment of federal funds to states, cities, and communities.

US residents are required to provide census information. Census data is confidential for 72 years. Specific questions asked in the decennial census have shifted over the years. The Short Form of the census asks about residents and relationships in an individual household, with data about the race and age of household members. The Long Form of the census, which asked many more questions on topics such as education and literacy, health and health insurance, employment and income, language, and transportation, has been phased out; such questions are asked now as part of the American Community Survey.

American Community Survey

Learn more about using Census Data

How to cite Census Data

Many citation styles do not give exact guidance for citing data from the US Census. The most important things to do when citing your data are to include enough specific information that a reader can find (and check!) your statistics, and to be consistent in your citation style.

It is helpful to think about a few different categories of information when you build a citation to  a source of Census data.

  • Authorship -- Who is responsible for the content? This could be a government or organization issuing agency responsible for the content of the source.
  • Title -- What is the title of the source? This could be the title of the data table or the dataset.
  • Identifiers -- Is there any additional information to distinguish the source? This can include version information, a DOI, or other information such as table numbers or limiters such as geographic extent
  • Source Information -- Where would you locate this source? This includes the name of website, portal, or database, and URL.

“If a table header includes all menu or item selections, use this information as the data table title. When the table header is incomplete (that is, your reader would not be able to create the same table by using the information in the data table header), “enhance” the title by adding the missing information in brackets. In general, do not include more than three of those menu choices.” (Cheney et al 175).

(From The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources 3rd ed., by Debora Cheney, Diane Garner, and Diane Smith, 2002 )

Here are some possible sample citations for different citation styles.

Chicago Style

U.S. Census Bureau, "Population Estimates, July 1, 2017 (V2017) -- Walla Walla city, WA," Quick Facts, accessed October 10, 2018, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/wallawallacitywashington,US/

U.S. Census Bureau, "Characteristics of People by Language Spoken at Home 2016," 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (ZCTA5 99362), American FactFinder, accessed October 10, 2018, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_S1603

APA Style

U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Population Estimates, July 1, 2017 (V2017) -- Walla Walla city, WA [data table]. Quick Facts. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/wallawallacitywashington,US/

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Characteristics of People by Language Spoken at Home [data table for 2016].  2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (ZCTA5 99362). Retrieved from American FactFinder, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_S1603

MLA Style

U.S. Census Bureau. "Population Estimates, July 1, 2017 (V2017) -- Walla Walla city, WA." Quick Facts, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/wallawallacitywashington,US/. Accessed 10 October 2018.

U.S. Census Bureau. "Characteristics of People by Language Spoken at Home 2016." 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (ZCTA5 99362). American FactFinder, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_S1603.

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The American FactFinder FAQ suggests a somewhat different approach to citation. As of October 2018, you cannot directly link to this information, but if you go to the Census Bureau's Frequently Asked Questions section, enter "cite american factfinder" in the search box, and click "search all help," this should be in the first result. Here is the FAQ information on citation:

Below is a general structure for citing census data from American FactFinder. Places where citation styles may differ are noted. (Use semicolons to separate the elements.) Note that this does NOT line up with standard citation styles -- you will need to fit the information into your chosen citation style.

  • U.S. Census Bureau;
  • Name of the database or other data repository/source (e.g., American FactFinder), set off by quotation marks, or follow publication citation style;
  • The name of the person who generates the tabulation, etc., e.g., "generated by John Smith;"
  • The name of the software package used to generate the tabulation, if known, e.g., "using American FactFinder;"
  • The URL of the application software's main or first page set off by angle brackets, e.g., <http://factfinder2.census.gov>;
  • The date, within parenthesis, when the user generated the tabulation, e.g., (7 January 2012).

 Examples:

  • U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table GCT0101; generated by John Smith; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (7 January 2012).
  • U.S. Census Bureau; Census 2000, Summary File 1, Table P001; generated by Jane Jones; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (20 February 2012).
  • U.S. Census Bureau; 2010 Census Summary File 1; Tables P1 and QT-P1; generated by John Smith; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (12 December 2011).

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There is a third possible way to set up citations to data tables and extracts found online.

Describe the data table or datafile

  • Data table header or file name, including file extension
  • Data description (data items, geography, time period); enclose in parentheses if not part of data table header

“If a table header includes all menu or item selections, use this information as the data table title. When the table header is incomplete (that is, your reader would not be able to create the same table by using the information in the data table header), “enhance” the title by adding the missing information in brackets. In general, do not include more than three of those menu choices.” (Cheney 175).

Describe the dataset (Data from: or Extracted from:)

  • Agency or organization that produced the dataset
  • The name of the dataset
  • Date data was last updated or date of the data collection/publication– year, version, or edition

Describe the Source of Information (Available at:)

  • Source of information (a commercial database vendor, portal, or freely available government or organization web site, and URL
  • Name of data generator
  • Date accessed

“P27A: Relationship by Household Type (Including Living Alone) (White Alone) --5 Digit ZCTA 16801.” Dataset: Census, 2000 (SF1). Available from: American Fact Finder (Census Bureau), http://factifinder.census.gov/; Accessed: 2/15/02.

“Table 3: Statistics by Economic Sector, Subsector, and Industry Group--Bellefonte, PA” (Geography Quick Report). Data based on the Economic Census, 1997. Available at: American Factfinder (Census Bureau), http://factfinder.census.gov; accessed: 1/26/02

Instructions and examples from Cheney et al, The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources, 3rd Edition, 2002. Note that these examples also do not line up exactly with the different citation styles.

 

 

 

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