Getting Population Data from the U.S. Census

CDXZipStream, our Microsoft add-in for ZIP code and location-based analysis, provides population information for the United States from two different sources (the 2010 decennial census and the American Community Survey) and for a variety of geographies: state, county, city, Core-Based Statistical Area, census tract, and ZIP code.  

For a quick tutorial on how to obtain population data from the 2010 Census, please see the following video:

For the YouTube version: How to Get US Population Data

The same data is available from the American Community Survey, which is also administered by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The American Community Survey has replaced the old “long-form” census and is administered annually to a sample of the American population.  It contains a much wider range of data than the census, covering not only population counts but areas ranging from educational attainment to household value.  Results are aggregated over a five-year period in order to provide data for geographies as small as ZIP codes and census tracts.  In CDXZipStream, ACS data is provided for the latest five-year period it is available, which is, at the time of this writing, the period from 2007 through 2011.

Here is another short tutorial on how to obtain population data and other demographics from the latest 5-year ACS:

Here is the Youtube version: ZIP Code Census Demographic Data in Microsoft Excel

Both tutorials above retrieve census data based on ZIP code information, but these results are approximate.  Since ZIP codes are ever-changing entities defined by the U.S. Postal Service, the Census Bureau aggregates their data into ZCTA’s (ZIP Code Tabulation Areas) which are approximations of USPS ZIP codes.  For more information, please see our article: What’s a ZCTA?

You can also get more exacting population and other demographic data based on census tract (which is typically about half the size of a ZIP code area), as described in our article Get 2010 Census Tract Demographics in Microsoft Excel.

Also note that population data from the decennial census and ACS will necessarily be different because they were obtained during different time periods and through different survey techniques.  The census is a 100% count of the population, and is sent to all households, and the ACS surveys a sample of the population, going out to about 3 million households annually.  Therefore, data obtained through the ACS should be considered estimates only.

Additionally, other measurements included in the American Community Survey will not necessarily add up to the population total.  Here are the population subsets currently used for the ACS:

Educational attainment: 25 years and older

School enrollment: 3 years and older

Marital status: 15 years and older

Earnings: 16 years and older

For more details about the data fields available in CDXZipStream, please download the CDXZipStream Data Fields and Definitions file.

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