Politics & Government

How to search for Census data online

In Whatcom County, nearly 500 people say they're of three or more races. Acme lost 17 residents over the last decade, the only community here to lose population. In Glacier, nearly nine in 10 people are adults.

Those are a few facts gleaned from federal government census data. The federal government is mandated by the Constitution to count people every 10 years so we can redraw district boundaries to determine representation in Congress.

But while census takers asked people to count themselves, a massive undertaking in a country that now has nearly 309 million residents, they asked other things, too: race, origin, age and more. It yields lot of data.

The Census Bureau has an online tool called American FactFinder you can use to look up data. It can be kind of tricky to use. Here are some tips for getting started:

? Go to Census.gov click on "American FactFinder" at the left. Then, to access Census 2010 data, click on the link for FactFinder 2.

? You might start with identifying geography. Click on "Geographies" at left. The easiest way to get to Whatcom County is to type "Whatcom County, Washington" into the search bar. Click "go." Then, under the "geography name" list you can select the type of geography you're looking for. If you want to see cities and rural communities, for example, select options with "places."

"CCD," a type of county subdivision, is a term for areas beyond just city limits. For example, the "Sumas CCD" will include areas beyond the city, and totals more than 8,000 people, while the city itself is only 1,300 people. You can select multiple types of geographies. When done, close the geography window.

? To search a specific "data set" (Census 2010, or Census 2000, as examples) click "Topics" at left and go down to "dataset." You can select multiple ones. "2010 Redistricting Data" is the newest data.

? Now you can determine which types of information you're looking for (race, housing occupancy, etc.) Select the type from the main menu. Hint: The data coded "QT-PL" has lots of interesting info. Click on one. Voila, you have data.

? You can modify the table, eliminating information you're not interested in, by clicking "Modify Table." You also can export the data into multiple formats (this is cool), including an Excel spreadsheet, which lets you add, subtract, find percentage change and create graphs easily. To do that, click "download" and select a format.

Have fun and explore. You won't break anything. Beware, however, if you leave the web page untouched for too long, it'll expire your session and you'll have to go through the search steps again to get to the data.

For more help on how to use American FactFinder, the Census Bureau provides online videos. Click "Main" at the top anytime, and then click "video tutorials" to access those.


This is one in a series of stories publishing during Sunshine Week, March 13-19, on accessing public documents or meetings in Whatcom County. For more, go to our Open Government web page.