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Keeping count of us all: US Census Bureau’s website offers visitors an easy way to find data


Ask most Americans what they imagine behind the word “bureaucracy” and you are liable to hear about long dreary halls with nondescript doors and unfriendly and unhelpful people behind them. Some Americans will recount their latest frustrating trip to their local Division of Motor Vehicles while for others it will be the difficulty they experienced getting their government to do some other simple thing.

But those folks have probably never fired up their web browser and taken a trip over to www.census.gov, the US Census Bureau. Hard as it might be to believe, the same government agency most Americans associate with long, boring surveys containing occasionally controversial questions has put together a web site which is really easy to reach and use.

The key to the site’s accessibility rests in its trout page, which quickly breaks down the agency’s enormous plain of data into logical and manageable chunks. For those researchers who only need a quick estimate of the US population or economic indicators, large buttons on the front page deliver you to those areas efficiently. People seeking information on global population estimates need only punch the “subjects A-Z” button and find “international” in the subjects list to get to those figures.

But if you remain only on the site’s surface, you will miss many of the most important research tools that the Census Bureau offers.

For example, follow the link called Population Pyramid Summary from the International Project Center’s (IPC) (found under International in the subject list) main page and you will arrive at a place that estimates the demographic consequences of many of today’s policies. Population Pyramid Summaries present a breakdown of a given nation’s population by age and sex, allowing a visual presentation of how falling birthrates result in the steady increase in population aging. Follow the International Database link, also from the IPC, and you will come to a place where all kinds of data are easily available from the Bureau’s vast files. Do you want to know the contraceptive prevalence in Australia in 1985? It’s there.

Of course, many of these numbers are only estimates, and many more are not very current, but when you are among the only organizations in the world collecting this data, those estimates very singularity dictates their value. The site’s search engine also works fairly efficiently, although the results arrive with no description attached which limits their value. The key to avoiding delays is to structure your searches tightly enough to generate a low number of hits, but not so tightly as to miss them all together. On average a subject search at the site takes about three passes to insure you have garnered all the information available on the subject.

The site even has a button that reads ‘just for fun.” Follow this link to an easy to use map breakdown of the United States. While this will not interest many international users, Americans might be interested in learning more about the demographic profiles of their states, counties, cities and home towns.

In an environment where the debate over population control funding has become ever more strident and ever less truthful, the Census Bureau’s contributions of common sense and integrity cannot be praised too highly. Everyone interested in this topic should visit the site often.

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