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The Census data dump begins

By Ed O'Keefe

Americans will be barraged in the coming weeks with different statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau, an ongoing data dump likely to confuse some waiting for decennial population numbers that help redraw Congressional districts.

Remember -- the Census Bureau doesn't just tabulate the nation's population every decade, it also compiles important economic, employment, educational and demographic statistics that are used for everything from determining the allocation of federal funding, where to build new roads and how to market new products.

"We're going to be releasing a lot of population data in the coming months," Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said last week at a meeting with reporters. "There is a potential for confusion." (See a full schedule below.)

Indeed. For example, the ranks of the nation's poor rose last year, according to Census statistics released Tuesday.

Those stats come from the American Community Survey, a questionnaire randomly sent on an annual basis to households nationwide. The survey helps determine the status of 40 different topic areas, including annual income, housing levels, educational attainment, family structure, commute times and the number of disabled people.

Some conservative activists and Republican lawmakers wrongly assumed that these questions were part of the 2010 Census forms. But no, the ACS replaced the old census "long form" that was randomly sent to some households in the past. (And yes, skeptics: It is constitutional for the Census Bureau to ask questions beyond a simple count of people.)

In December the Census Bureau will release ACS statistics based on data collected between 2005 and 2009 for geographic areas of all sizes. A third set of ACS data collected between 2007 and 2009 and covering all areas with populations of 20,000 or more will be released in January.

The results of the 10-question decennial census forms completed earlier this year will be released in December, as required by the U.S. Constitution. (Article 1, Section 2 states that "[An] enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.")

The December release will include the nation's new total population figures and state-by-state congressional apportionment information. Other information on redistricting will be released in February or March.

So remember: "Census" or "census figures" mean much more than national population statistics. Those words can often signal the data that helps everyone including economists, demographers, private companies and political consultants make decisions on how to spend money, where to open new businesses and where and how to advertise.

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UPCOMING CENSUS BUREAU RELEASES:

OCTOBER:
2009 American Community Survey estimates

DECEMBER:
2010 Census state counts

Census Bureau demographic analysis

2005-2009 American Community Survey estimates

JANUARY:
2007-2009 American Community Survey estimates

FEBRUARY TO MARCH:
Redistricting data from the 2010 Census

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 28, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Census  
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