Making Sense of the Census: How a GIS Professional Can Prepare to Put 2020 Census Data to Work

Alex Lange, GIS Solutions Architect

By Alex Lange, GIS Solutions Architect

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With the completion of the 2020 Census, local, state and federal governments – and citizens – await results that will no doubt reshape and inform the next 10 years of economic development and government planning. Many are wondering when these results will be available. Based on a release schedule from the 2010 Census we will most likely see the final Summary Files (as produced by the Census Bureau) in the last quarter of 2021. The Census releases files by state when they are finished, so a given state’s results will show up once it has been completed.

There is plenty of time to start preparing to receive your census data. While the greatest interest tends to be concentrated on the raw population numbers – how many people live here? – the next question is, what has changed between 2010 and now? By familiarizing ourselves with the 2010 data we can figure out the data points that are most important to our own organizations and how we will be able to use the new 2020 data.

Where Can I Find 2010 Census Data?

Currently, the best sources for downloading 2010 Census data are straight from the Census Bureau’s website and through Esri’s Living Atlas.

Esri’s Living Atlas

The Living Atlas compiles spatial data layers that have been published by Esri and its ArcGIS Online customers. 2010 Census data is available to download if you have access to ArcGIS Online. If you do, the layers can be used in ArcGIS Online or downloaded and used in ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro.

Traditionally, Census data has been broken into four separate datasets for data counts on race, age, households, and housing (home and renting). The countless ways to combine and display the data counts are a great way to explore the data and figure out the counts that are important to your organization. With those data points ready to go, when the 2020 Census data is released, it can be added to 2010 data for comparison.

American Community Survey

Another helpful resource is the data from the American Community Survey (ACS), a survey that is conducted by the Census Bureau in non-Census years to gather additional data not included in the Decennial Census.

It should be noted that, while the raw data can be downloaded from the Census Bureau, Esri’s Living Atlas has many spatial layers that show specific data points from the ACS, such as Internet Access and Language Spoken.

Also available is a web application that shows the 2020 Self-Response Rates (a project between the Census Bureau and Esri), showing the percentage of responses in your area.

Adding Detail with LifeModes

It is important to remember that census data contains a lot of information and, by using it in combination with the ACS, additional conclusions can be made. Esri has done just that with its 2020 USA Tapestry Segmentation layer. By state, county, zip code, tract, and block group, this census-derived layer shows the “LifeMode Summary” for those given areas.

Using 14 LifeMode groups, such as Family Landscapes, which describes “successful young families in their first homes, do-it-yourselfers who work on home improvement projects as well as lawns and gardens, eat out frequently at fast food or family restaurants, etc.”. These groups are broken down again into subgroups (for a total of 67) like “Soccer Moms”, “Home Improvement” or “Middleburg” to better answer questions about what type of person lives in these areas. With such focused and intricate data there are endless possibilities for investigating the population in which you are interested.

While We Wait

While there may be a significant wait for the release of 2020 Census data, we don’t have to wait to prepare for how we’re going to use it! With so many possibilities, there is plenty of work to be done on planning, getting a feel for information, and utilizing other demographic data that already exists. Take advantage of this time to become familiar with how 2020 Census data could be deployed to bring value to your organization, and be ready to respond when it becomes available.

We are excited to see how YOU use 2020 Census data and will be sharing more as we move towards its release date!

Video: Preparing for 2020 Census Data