The first place to look for demographic data is the U.S. Census. The Census Bureau does more than collect rudimentary data about the population. They conduct an economic survey every five years, and through statistical sampling, analyze population trends every year.
Because there is so much information available through the resources available at the Census Bureau it requires more patience than some other databases.
Start with American FactFinder. You can find the link to American FactFinder on the U.S. Census Bureau’s front page by looking under the ‘Data’ tab.
Another great resource is the interactive map at the 2010 Census page (note that this interactive map is different than the interactive map available from the U.S. Census front page). From here you can drill down to find basic demographic information about an area on a block by block level.
The American Community Survey is another place within the U.S. Census site to start looking for information.
Here are some questions I answered recently using the resources available at the US Census.
How many males are in high school in Florida?
By going to American FactFinder and using ‘school enrollment’ as my topic search term and Florida as my place search term I was able to locate a file titled “SEX BY SCHOOL ENROLLMENT BY LEVEL OF SCHOOL BY TYPE OF SCHOOL FOR THE POPULATION 3 YEARS AND OVER.” There are approximately 483,969 males enrolled in grades 9 through 12 in Florida. This number comes from the 2010 American Community Survey.
How many homeowners and renters are there around the University of Tampa?
For this question I visited the 2010 Census interactive map. To start the map I clicked on the ‘Household’ button and it took me to the map. I entered 33606 in the ‘Get Started’ search box. Once the map zoomed in on Tampa I could adjust my geographic level using the selection tool on the left-hand side of the map. I can find information ranging from National View to Census Block view. I chose Census Tract as the closest thing to neighborhood information. In the Census Tract immediately surrounding the University of Tampa there are 1,309 residences. 1,180 of those are occupied. 212 are occupied by their owner while 968 are occupied by renters. 129 residences are empty.
What types of businesses employ the most people in the Tampa-St. Petersburg_Clearwater metropolitan statistical area?
This question was a bit more challenging because the Census Bureau doesn’t divide their survey by ‘types’ of business, but rather by industries. To find this answer I visited American FactFinder, and used the word ‘occupation’ for my topic search term. In the ‘State, County, or Place’ box I began typing in Tampa and it eventually gave me the ability to chose Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater as a search option. From the results list I chose the report “INDUSTRY BY OCCUPATION FOR THE CIVILIAN EMPLOYED POPULATION 16 YEARS AND OVER” and learned that there are 1,207,195 employed civilians over the age of 16. 163,737 work in the retail trade, and the industries that employ the most are “Educational services, and health care and social assistance.”
Keep in mind that the U.S. Census is not the only agency that collects data. Some other handy reports are the National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the American Housing Survey by Housing and Urban Statistics and the National Longitudinal Study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you’re not sure which federal department to start with use USA.gov to begin your search.
UPDATE: The Gale Virtual Reference Library (located in the ‘Databases‘ list) has a collection of e-books by New Strategist Publications covering demographics from a variety of angles. For example, their 14-volume “Who’s Buying” series includes titles like Who’s Buying Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Beverages, 8th ed., Who’s Buying By Age, 6th ed., Who’s Buying by Race and Hispanic Origin, 7th ed., and Who’s Buying for Pets, 9th ed.