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Help finding demographic and social data for neighborhoods
This guide will help you find demographic, social, and economic data from the U.S. Census at the Census tract and Census block group level.
The Census does NOT provide data for "neighborhoods." How cities define neighborhoods varies between cities and and other municipalities.. Some municipalities (such as Chicago) don't have official boundaries for neighborhoods.
Instead, you will have to determine which Census tracts and Census block groups make up a neighborhood.
The boundaries of a group of Census tracts and the boundaries of a neighborhood most likely won't align perfectly, and it's okay. This is an issue that's known and accepted among researchers, city planners, and other professionals.
Why use Census data?
The U.S. Census, and the Census Bureau that conducts it, aren't perfect, but the Census Bureau
- Has conducted surveys since 1790
- Conducts the broadest range of population and housing surveys
- Gathers data from and makes it available at multiple geographic levels, from nation to divisions of cities.
- Provides its data and reports to the public for free
You won’t find all the data you want from the Census Bureau.
- Conducting and processing surveys takes lots of money and time; federal gov’t not always willing to spend either.
- People don’t want to respond to every survey, esp every government survey.
- Every topic the Census asks about in its two main demographic surveys has to be approved by Congress, and has to be tied to a government program.
- Other federal agencies responsible for collecting other kinds of data. These agencies include Depts of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor.
Who uses Census data? Who provides it?
- Businesses, non-profit organizations, governments all use Census data.
- Some organizations, especially businesses and universities and colleges, repackage or add data to Census data. Businesses usually sell their products.
- Social Explorer (SE) is a database UW-Madison subscribes to. SE takes Census data and creates an eas(ier)-to-use interface for retrieving and visualizing data.
Sources for Census data and maps
You can retrieve this database from multiple sources. I recommend the database Social Explorer, and then, as a secondary alternative, Data.Census.gov Social Explorer is easier to use, but there's a fair amount you'll want to learn before you create data tables and maps with either tool.
- This database has a relatively easy-to-use interface for creating maps and retrieving data.
- Database that UW-Madison libraries subscribe to. You may need to log in with your netID and password.
- Only three simultaneous users from UW-Madison are allowed in the database at any one time.
- Allows users to create maps and reports at all geographic levels, including the state, county, census tract, block group, zip code and census place
- Default interface creates/retrieves maps
- One does NOT need to create an account or use Social Explorer's "Login" button to use Social Explorer.
- The Census Bureau's platform to access its data and digital content.
- Interface is not as easy to use as Social Explorer.
- Free of charge.
- No limit on how many people can use it at one time.
- Using the basic search, on the introductory/home page, will likely return lots of tables from lots of surveys.
- The advanced search asks you to use filters from the start, and to make choices about
- Some detailed data can only be retrieved using the advanced search.