U.S. Census Bureau Relies on GIS Technology

U.S. Census Bureau Relies on GIS Technology

When the U.S. Census Bureau took the 2010 Census, it heavily relied on GIS technology to gather population data. Based on the census data gathered each year, the U.S. federal government distributes more than $400 billion to local, state and tribal governments. That’s why it’s a smart move to pursue an online GIS degree: The government wants accurate data that only GIS experts can provide.


What the Census Found

The U.S. Census Bureau showed the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2010, was 308,745,538 with an increase of 9.7 percent over the 2000 Census.

Esri’s Winter 2011/2012 ArcNews reported there was a significant increase in ethic diversity across the country. The Hispanic population increased by over 15.2 million people, accounting for 56 percent of all population growth during the decade, and now makes up 16 percent of the total US population. In 30 percent of U.S. counties, the Hispanic population increased by 100 percent or more, and it doubled in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

2010 Census File Formats

Using the Census Bureau’s TIGER Products, anybody with an internet connection can access the processed data. (TIGER stands for Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing System.)

The 2010 census offered several file types for mapping census data, including:

TIGER/Line Shapefiles and TIGER/Line Files – designed for use with GIS software and are available to the public for free. They are essentially spatial extracts from the Census Bureau’s database, containing features such as roads, railroads, rivers and other statistical data.

Cartographic Boundary Files – simplified representations of selected areas from the database, such as Congressional Districts and Counties. These files are used for small-scale mapping.

KML – (formerly Keyhole Markup Language) file formats, an international standard maintained by the Open Geospatial Consortium Inc., to display geographic data. The files are compatible with Google Earth or Google Maps.

TIGERweb – Uses web-based Geography Division applications and services that allow users to view and query boundaries and attribute information for geographic entities that are stored in the MAF/TIGER database. It does not include demographic data, but contains geographic entity codes that can be linked to the Census Bureau’s demographic data, available on American FactFinder.

The Census Bureau also offers resources for understanding census geography, geographic programs and geographic support systems.

With all this GIS data, one could argue that the Census Bureau is nothing more than a large-scale geography organization that seeks as much data as possible.

For example, in the 2010 Census Demographic Profile, the data sought to learn additional lower-level geographies – including ZIP code tabulation areas, school districts and census tracts – will be released for the demographic profiles. The demographic profiles were released by state down to the place level in May and provide statistics on topics such as age, race, Hispanic origin, sex, household relationship, household type, group quarters population and home ownership.

Next Step

While the Census Bureau provides a nice basis of data, Esri takes it to another level. Adding to the data from the Census 2010, Esri concentrates on demographic data every year to help companies make better real estate and business decisions.

For example, Esri’s Updated Demographics Database makes accurate current year estimates and five year projections for categories including: Population –
Such as age, sex, race, Hispanic origin; Households –
Such as total households, total family households, average household size; Income
–  Such as household income, per capita income; and, Housing – Such as owner-occupied units, renter-occupied units, vacant units.

Esri says companies use the information to study population changes and identify areas with high or low household income. This helps companies find their target markets. Here’s a look at the 2011 Median Household Income by Counties.

It’s not just the big chains using this data. In his paper posted on BluePointStrategies.com, analyst Chris Gattis wrote: “Making a retail site selection decision is just as important for a small retail owner as it is for major chains. In fact, a small retailer is significantly less able to sustain a bad site decision than is a major retail player. The small or first‐time owner is typically undercapitalized and not able to sustain months or years of underutilized business until it can relocate or renegotiate a lease.”

That means businesses as small as a cupcake and candy shop on Main Street or as big as Wal-Mart need people with GIS technology backgrounds. This makes it an exciting time to be pursuing an online GIS technology degree.