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This is a guide to using American FactFinder 2, the Census Bureau's data access system.
Last Updated: Nov 3, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Introduction Print Page


This guide has been developed to give users a basic introduction to Census Data and American FactFinder 2, the U.S. Census Bureau's data access system. American FactFinder has several different search options, a basic keyword search, a Guided Search and an Advanced Search system, as well as several options for mapping data. Each of these systems are described on the pages of this guide. This guide is also available as a PDF document, for those who wish to follow a printed document.

If you need assistance accessing or locating data, please feel free to contact me via e-mail or telephone or visit me at my office.

Introduction to Census Data and American FactFinder 2

What is American FactFinder 2?

American FactFinder 2 is a search engine that provides access to the population, housing and economic data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. It can be used to retrieve data from the 2000 and 2010 Census, American Community Surveys (ACS), Population Estimates and the Economic Census and other Census Bureau surveys. Some of the data from these programs may not be available for rural communities. Older (pre-2000) Census data is available from the National Historical GIS website (registration is required).

About Census Bureau Surveys

The Census Bureau collects data on a number of different topics, including people and the economy. This data is delivered through several different Census reports, including the Decennial Census, which provides population and housing data that is collected every 10 years, Economic and Government censuses, which are done every 5 years, and the American Community Survey, which is a survey of a sample of the population conducted every year.

Decennial Census – a survey of the entire population of the United States. It is taken every 10 years (in years ending with 0).

American Community Survey – a survey of a sample of the population that is conducted continuously. This survey provides data that is more current than the Decennial Census, but the data may not be available for all areas. Data is released in 1-year, 3-year and 5-year estimates, depending on the population of the area. To retrieve data for an entire state (both urban & rural areas) use the 5-year estimates.

Features of American Community Survey Population Data

Features 1-Year Estimates 3-Year Estimates 5-Year Estimates
  Time Period   1 Year of Data   3 Years of Data   5 Years of Data
  Population Threshold   ≥65,000   ≥20,000   All Areas
  Sample Size   Smallest   Intermediate   Larger
  Reliability   Least Reliable   Somewhat Reliable   More Reliable
  Currency   Most Current   Somewhat Current   Least Current
  Uses   To analyze areas with
  large populations when
  current data is needed
  To analyze areas with
  smaller populations
  when current data is
  needed and 1-year data
  is not available
  To analyze areas with
  very small populations
  (rural areas), when
  current data is needed
  and 1 and 3 year data
  is not available

Based on US Census Bureau’s Guidance for ACS Data Users

Economic Census – a survey of business establishments conducted every 5 years. Data is grouped by NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code and provided for local areas, counties, states, regions and the entire country.

Census of Governments – a survey of government entities conducted every 5 years. It provides information on the number and type of government agencies, how the government is organized and government employment and payroll.

Subject Guide

Linda Zellmer
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Government Information & Data Services Librarian
Malpass Library 415
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