Finding Census and Registration Data

Perhaps the most helpful guides to census data in US are the monthly Data User News and the excellent annual Census Catalog and Guide. The Census Catalog includes to only a list of all current and previous census publications, but also some very useful special guides to data on small communities, minorities, and international data programs, as well as a list of persons to contact for more information.

More than 1,500 federal depository libraries and 120 census depository libraries throughout the country have collections of the printed census reports available at no cost for public use. The Bureau of the Census also responds to direct inquiries about its published and unpublished data.

In recent years the Census Bureau has tried to increase its data services to governmental organizations and to businesses. To this end the Bureau now produces data in firms other than print and microfiche. Data from the 1987 economic censuses and the 1990 population census and the 1990 population census will be available on floppy diskettes for manipulating on a microcomputer, on CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read-Only Memory),and on magnetic tape for use in large computer installations. The computer tapes from the 1980 Census of Population sold for less than cost and released by the Bureau before the printed version. These computer tapes contain complete data from the census in a form that can be manipulated to provide user-specified cross tabulations, comparisons, and statistical portraits. In addition to these summary tape files, the bureau release micro-data samples, un-tabulated data from a selection of census returns with all names and personal information removed to allow analysis of census data.

Prices for these products remain remarkably low. The Census Bureau lists all of its machine-readable files in the Census Catalog and Guide and in its Directory of Data Files.

For those unable or unwilling to buy these automated census products, access to them, along with many of the printed reports, is now available to the public through the State data Center program begun in 1978. There is at least one center in every state. The fees charged by the centers for computer time and services vary from state to state. A list of the State Data Centers appears in the Census Catalog and Guide. There are also proposed state business/industry data centers that will offer similar services to businesses in each state. In addition, a number of commercial forms provide sophisticated demographic analysis based on computerized census data.

In recent years a number of companies have segmented the country into areas smaller than those covered by ZIP coeds on the assumption that people with similar cultural backgrounds and value systems tend to cluster together. Claritas is one of several companies that produces and sells population profiles of areas smaller than ZIP codes. For example, it was recently asked to locate upwardly mobile black households. It pulled together 160 such neighborhoods identified by ZIP code boundaries – for example, Maywood, a west Chicago suburb.

Registration data on companies may be obtained from a number of online databases or through the many firms, of whom the best-known are Disclosure, Bechtel, and Q-File who make the documents available on microfiche.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually is an excellent selection of and guide to the registration data gahter6ed by the many offices and programs of the federal government. The American Statistics Index, published by CIS, Inc., is the most comprehensive index to US government statistics. Its companion, the Statistics Reference Index, provides similar comprehensive access to the publications of ate and other nonfederal statistical agencies.

Freedom of information Act: The freedom of information Act (FOIA) although its use by business is a continuing source of controversy, has increased the amount and kind of registration data available to researchers. Despite the charges and fears of industrial espionage businesses use the FOIA largely to obtain information about the government. The FOIA allows companies access to information on bidding for government contracts, government procurement policies, and the reports filed about them by various government inspectors. Nonetheless, the FOIA can be sued with a little imagination to obtain valuable information about a firm’s competitors and their plans.