Prep for Census 2010’s First Wave

In a few weeks, the first detailed results of the decennial U.S. Census will start pouring from Census headquarters in Suitland, Md., and a Panic Season will commence in unsuspecting newsrooms. What are these numbers? Where can I download them? Didn’t we just get new Census data? Can you tell me whether Census counts X or Y or Z?

On deadline, that’s a lot of potential headache. I know you want to avoid the pain, so take some advice from a guy who survived reporting on Census 2000: prep is everything.

Here are five steps you can take now:

1. Know your Census products: These days, “Census data” means more than it did a decade ago. The advent of the American Community Survey — a survey of about 3 million households each year that replaced the old Census long form — means we get annual estimates in between the full decennial counts. And the ACS comes in three flavors: single-year data plus three- and five-year aggregates, each providing different levels of geographic granularity.

The regular releases of ACS data make Census seem more routine these days, but the data coming out soon are different. These aren’t estimates from a sample — they’re the complete counts taken in spring 2010 via a short questionnaire sent to every household in America.

This first wave of Census 2010 data, coming state-by-state in February and March, are the Redistricting Data (P.L. 94-171) summary files. They’ll contain the basic counts of population by race for every state, county and place in America, all the way down to the smallest geographies, called blocks. As its name implies, these data will be used to redraw the boundaries of legislative, electoral and other districts in states — a process journalists will want to keep tabs on.

Later, in the summer, Summary File 1 will offer more detailed data on age, sex, households, families, and housing units — again from complete counts. Then, in the fall, we’ll see the next release of ACS data. Got all that?

On the Beat: Census 2010 Coverage

The decennial Census has kept us busy this spring, especially as the government released the daily tally of participation. Today’s the last day to mail back forms, so it feels like time to take a breath and recap some of the work my excellent colleagues have done the last few weeks:

— Stories on states and counties beginning to top their response rates from 2000, on hurdles to participation and  Census jobs going unfilled.
Maps tracking participation and an interactive where you can search rates by state, county or locality.
— A neat interactive explaining how Congress is reapportioned after every Census.

More to come as Census workers fan out to households that didn’t respond. But, of course, this is nothing compared to the deluge we’ll face next spring when Census turns on the firehose of the actual data.

Tracking Census 2010 Participation

This week, my USA TODAY colleague Paul Overberg and I launched a simple database application to display the Census 2010 mail participation rates for states, counties and 27,000 cities and towns.

Through late April, the Census Bureau is updating the data each weekday. They’ve launched their own interactive map and offer the data in CSV or double-pipe-delimited format (a new one for us). We didn’t want to duplicate the bureau’s map, but we did want to offer something Census isn’t: the ability to quickly find and rank geographies.

Here’s more on how it came together:

Notes from Pew’s Census 2010 Workshop

The Pew Research Center’s Census 2010 workshop Jan. 21 featured two panels to help journalists and analysts prep for the decennial count of America and the data dump to follow. Two of my USA TODAY colleagues and I sat in. Paul Overberg, a fellow database editor, led one of the panels.

Pew staff recorded the sessions and is sharing some of the material on its Census site. Here are some of my notes for those who couldn’t make it:

‘Conducting Census 2010’
Presented with the Washington Statistical Society and D.C.-American Association of Public Opinion Research

Robert Groves,  director, U.S. Census Bureau
Constance Citro, director, Committee on National Statistics
Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer, Pew Research Center
Joseph Salvo, director, Population Division, NYC Dept. of City Planning
Scott Keeter, director of survey research, Pew Research Center

Groves led with a broad description of the planning and operational aspects of the count:


Adjusting for inflation: A beginner’s guide

When Daniel Craig hit theaters in Quantum of Solace in 2008, the 22nd film in the James Bond spy series, his ability to dispatch bad guys (and charming good looks, no doubt) helped it earn $168.4 million. That was enough to rank Solace among the top 10 grossing films of 2008.

But how did Solace fare against the rest of the Bond canon, which stretches back to 1963’s Dr. No? The answer depends on whether you adjust for inflation.

We all know that the price of a loaf of bread isn’t what it used to be. The cost of consumer goods tends to rise each year, except during downturns or various calamities. So, taking inflation (or deflation) into account is the only way to  meaningfully compare dollar amounts over time.

There are plenty of apps just for this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers one basic calculator, and there’s another at this site. They’re fine for a quick check, but I’d rather do my own calculations. A web app might not have the latest data. And if you’re adjusting more than a couple of amounts, using a spreadsheet will save time. Here’s an exercise from Bond-land: