One of the little noticed effects of the federal government shutdown is that many federal statistics and reports that we rely on are currently on hold.  For example, the all-too-important September jobs report never came, and if the shutdown continues, we all may miss out on measuring the unemployment rate for October.  Even updates to the consumer price index, which adjusts government benefits for inflation, may be delayed.

If you want to look up past U.S. Census Bureau data you will encounter problems as well. The popular American Factfinder and Census Bureau websites are now unavailable.  So, here are a few tips for those who us who are in need of data right now:

  • Free of charge, The University of Minnesota’s National Historical Geographic Information System provides aggregate statistics from the decennial censuses and the American Community Survey (ACS).  I have used data from these folks on many of my projects and can vouch for their simple and intuitive interface.
  • For the next few weeks, the Social Explorer website is providing free access to its data.  Social Explorer is a great website for Census data and also offers neat visualization capabilities.  But I wouldn’t get too cozy with using their services; they usually charge a fee, and it’s hard to say how long their generosity will last.
  • If you have some data analysis skills, the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) project is still open.  The site is another Minnesota creation and is a favorite of mine.  They provide access not only to past censuses and the ACS, but data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) as well.  If you don’t have SAS, SPSS, or STATA software you can always use their online analysis tools. The interface isn’t all that great and requires some expertise to navigate, but it does allow for very detailed analyses.
  • If you need only local or state-level data, many states have decent data centers you can check out.  For all of you Virginians out there, you can always visit the Weldon Cooper Center website and see the work we do.  We provide county population data and projections.

Dustin Cable is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where he conducts research on topics that lie at the intersection of demographics, politics, and public policy.
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