Commentary about the difficulty of obtaining census information

from the U.S. Bureau of Census



Shortcomings

Although the website of the U.S. Bureau of Census is supposed to provide complete and useful statistical information to the general public, it falls short of that goal in various ways:

  1. The census website currently contains two versions of American Fact Finder, the older one containing much information from the 2000 census, the newer one containing some information from the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The older version, which is more useful overall, is scheduled for elimination later in 2011.

  2. Most block numbers were changed between 2000 and 2010, whether the boundaries of those blocks changed or not, causing more confusion than necessary.

  3. Although voting districts often serve as the building blocks for construction of legislative districts, neither the G001 nor P4 files include statistics for those voting districts.

  4. Between June and August of 2011, records for individual blocks disappeared from G001 Geographic Identifier files. These files provide latitude, longitude, and land area for geography down to the block level, making it possible to sort by location or find small, barely visible blocks by their proximity to labelled blocks. They also provide Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) codes and census codes that identify the county, civil division, municipality, and election precinct where each block is located. (The alternative statewide summary files, in fixed-width format, are too awkward for the casual user's personal computer.)

  5. Although census statistics are provided for magisterial districts as small as 2.3 square kilometers (District 801, Prince Edward County, Virginia) with populations as low as 536 persons (Blue Grass district, Highland County, Virginia), scant internal statistics are provided for large cities like Norfolk and Richmond. Statistics could be provided for planning areas and neighborhoods that these cities recognize and use for administrative purposes. Instead the only internal statistics provided by the census are census tracts and block groups, which are standardized in a way that are often incompatible with internal geography, and city blocks.

  6. Although statistics are provided for boroughs in New York City, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut (Woodmont in the city of Milford), no statistics are provided for boroughs in the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia.

  7. Although many Americans cohere within neighborhoods as a local social unit, the last report of the Neighborhood Statistics Program was published in 1983, based on the 1980 census.

  8. Prison inmates are counted at the prison, rather than at home (where more of them vote), transferring causing political clout from cities to rural areas.

  9. Two of the racial categories are peculiar American fabrications:

Although the vast majority of the American people makd the 2010 census compilation possible by filling out and returning questionnaires, their inability to obtain the fruits of their effort robs them of the right to participate fully in such government decisions as


What must be done to rectify these difficulties in obtaining useful statistics? What is being done?


A chorus of complaints about the Census Bureau's new American Fact Finder


These maps were obtained from the legacy version of American Fact Finder. They show towns and school districts in a large state.

Here are the town lines:
Map of towns in North Country, including Adirondacks
Map of towns west from Finger Lakes Map of Leatherstocking towns
Map of Downstate and Catskill towns

Here are the school district lines:
Map of school districts in North Country, including Adirondacks
Map of school districts west from Finger Lakes Map of Leatherstocking school districts
Map of Downstate and Catskill school districts

Here are both towns and school districts:
Map of towns and school districts in North Country, including Adirondacks
Map of towns and school districts west from Finger Lakes Map of Leatherstocking towns and school districts
Map of Downstate and Catskill towns and school districts

We can find no equivalent maps corresponding to the most recent (2010) census data.


Shortcut to reach the legacy version of American Fact Finder

  1. Use the Mozilla Firefox browser. Microsoft Internet Explorer may not get through.

  2. Click here to reach the "Select Geography" page at <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTGeoSearchByListServlet?ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&_lang=en&_ts=329600849671>.

  3. The "Select Geography" page should appear. If it does not, follow the longer route below.

  4. Under "Choose a selection method", click "map".

  5. At <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTSearchMapFramesetServlet?_ts=329601556468>, a nationwide map should appear. To get custom maps, use the commands above and to the left of the map:

Long route to reach the legacy version of American Fact Finder

  1. Use the Mozilla Firefox browser. Microsoft Internet Explorer may not get through.

  2. From the Census Bureau home page, <http://www.census.gov>, next to "People & Households", click "Census 2000".

  3. Reaching the "Census 2000 Gateway" at <http://www.census.gov/main/www/cen2000.html>, under "Access Data by Geography", at "American FactFinder", click "Go".

  4. Reaching American FactFinder at <http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en>, under "Getting Detailed Data", at of "Decennial Census", click "get data".

  5. Reaching "Data Sets" at <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DatasetMainPageServlet?_program=DEC&_submenuId=&_lang=en&_ts=>, under "Census 2000", to the right of "Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF 1) 100-Percent Data", click "Detailed Tables".

  6. Reaching "Select Geography" at <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTGeoSearchByListServlet?ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&_lang=en&_ts=329600849671>, under "Choose a selection method", click "map".

  7. At <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTSearchMapFramesetServlet?_ts=329601556468>, a nationwide map should appear. To get custom maps, use the commands above and to the left of the map:

Notice to Census Bureau

Please tell me what can be done to stop the imminent demise of a valuable public resource that the American people deserve to benefit from.

The census, more than most government programs, depends on voluntary compliance for its accuracy. The vast majority of Americans have satisfied the Census Bureau's every request, although fewer are doing so, perhaps because they see diminishing benefit from assisting the government.

At <http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en> appears the alarming message, "This version of American FactFinder will be discontinued in the fall." Why is that necessary?

At the census website, <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTSearchMapFramesetServlet?_ts=329493923665>, also accessible via the instructions at <http://www.rev.net/~aloe/census#reach> the mapping functi&on of the legacy version of American Fact Finder provides detailed custom-made online maps in the easy-to-use GIF format (a format that is in the public domain since the expiration of its patent). Maps are available in ten sizes, from the neighborhood level to nationwide. If the edges of the map fall in an inconvenient place, the user may pan in any direction to center the geographic territory of interest. A menu allows the user to decide which of 58 features will appear on the map: civil divisions, municipal boundaries, census tracts, block groups, blocks, places, economic places, districts of Congress and state legislatures, voting tabulation districts, zip codes, school districts, streets, alleys, streams, railroads, national parks, golf courses, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, and jails. Each boundary has a distinct color, allowing even the simplest graphics program to isolate one type of boundary or another. (To provide a taste of the capability of this map generator, school districts and civil divisions are compared at <http://www.rev.net/~aloe/census#ex>.)

In addition, maps of any level of census geography may be obtained at <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTGeoSearchByListServlet?ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&_lang=en&_ts=329493805891>.

I know of no other way to obtain large-scale census maps in such variety. This is a unique resource worth maintaining.

Why is the Census Bureau determined to rob the people of this valuable service? What can be done to keep the custom mapper online? Does the Census Bureau lack the resources to keep it operating and up to date?

If the Census Bureau is not in a position to support the legacy American Fact Finder, will the Census Bureau cooperate in transferring the software to a private server willing to operate it? How large a memory and how much bandwidth does it require to run?


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Last revised: 31 December 2011

visitors since 4 May 2011

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