Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summary File 1 DVDs: Quick Access to Detailed Census Data

The U.S. Census Bureau has done a better job of getting data online in consumable formats, most notably adding shapefiles and geodatabases containing demographic, social, and economic data.  Room for improvement remains.  One additional source is a free set of DVDs that contain data at various geographies and levels of detail for variables in Summary File 1.  No Access tables need to be created or linked or statistical code run.
"Summary File 1 (SF 1) contains the data compiled from the questions asked of all people and about every housing unit."
The two DVDs are split into a US Summary and National File (for larger geographies).  Installing both requires 20 GB of free space. A quick overview can be found on the Census website.

Most importantly, the DVDs include a 'data engine' that makes selecting data easier by a variety of criteria including geographic unit, variables of interest, and output format (i.e. *.csv, *.shp, etc.).  There are numerous file types for exporting data.  Summary information can also be displayed in a report format.  The information contained in the DVDs is far more detailed than can be easily found elsewhere.

  • For example, the DVDs contain counts of people for single-year age groups.  
After installing the data engine at data from at least one of the DVDs, you click an icon and get prompted to create a workspace/folder.  You then proceed to pick a geography, output (file type or report), variables, and custom/derived variables that are of interest. A workspace can also be saved for future use.

A screenshot from the Census website showing the data engine
and tabs that you will work through to get your data.
Arrows show how to get started, basic navigation, and the help button.
I have used the DVDs at my work and it is a much more efficient way to navigate through census data, especially if you are near a deadline.  Unfortunately, accessing other census data, such as Summary File 2, remains more challenging.  Be sure to check with your local or state planning agency to see if they have census data posted on their website in shapefiles or spreadsheets for easy use.

Lastly, if you are interested in data from the American Community Survey, be sure to check out the TIGER Products website and the Summary Data Retrieval Tool (direct download link).

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