Surveying U.S. Census Bureau Commuting Data in Atlanta

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, I am in Atlanta for a roundtable discussion with local officials on commuting data, and discussing how they can use the Census Bureau’s wealth of statistics to serve their communities.

The Atlanta area is a great case study of some of the many ways that commuting data can be used by policy makers and residents. For starters, our data show that the mean travel time of Atlanta-area commuters is among the highest of American metro areas, at 31 minutes. Our data also indicate how residents get to work – whether by car, bike, public transportation or on foot. Atlantans rely heavily on their cars, with 76.3 percent of workers commuting by automobile.

Commuting data can also tell Atlanta leaders about how residents use other modes of transportation, such as the MARTA bus and rail line, the Downtown Loop streetcar line that opened in 2014, and the multi-use BeltLine trail that’s currently under development. Our statistics can show changes in how people use these alternative travel methods over time.

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Armed with Census Bureau data on commuting, local officials can see how, when, and where their residents are commuting. This enables them to make evidence-based decisions on transportation on behalf of their constituents. For example, they can examine the relationship between transportation systems and development patterns in their area; implement policies to address traffic congestion; and use forecasting to predict commuting behavior.

But officials aren’t the only people who can use our data. Residents and advocacy groups can use them to petition for new or expanded roads, bus lines, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Entrepreneurs and economic development agencies can better understand the link between travel and business patterns. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (coincidentally, based in Atlanta) uses commuting data to track community design and its effect on environmental public health. The potential uses are endless.

Census Bureau commuting statistics come from the American Community Survey, the largest household survey in the U.S. Along with data on commuting patterns, the American Community Survey provides statistics on housing, employment, education and many other topics – and it’s the basis for the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds. Transportation strategy is just one way that communities use American Community Survey statistics to plan for investments and services.

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Director Thompson and Doug Hooker, Atlanta Regional Commission executive director, discuss how Census Bureau data can be used to inform decisions on the city’s commuting and transportation needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about commuting patterns in your community, check out Census Explorer: Commuting Edition to see data by state, county and neighborhood. For special reports on commuting, visit the Census Bureau’s commuting web page.

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Census Day in the Houston and Los Angeles Areas

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today is Census Day for Harris County, Texas and Los Angeles County, Calif., the two sites taking part in the 2016 Census Test. Almost 225,000 households in each location have received a notification by mail asking them to complete the questionnaire. During the decennial census, Census Day – April 1 – provides the reference day for measuring the population; we’re using the same reference day for the 2016 Census Test.

The 2016 Census Test is part of the extensive research and testing that will help us make key decisions about how we will carry out the next census. From 2012 through 2015, we conducted seven census tests across the country that informed our 2020 Census Operational Plan. The test underway in Texas and California is a large-scale implementation of innovations from the 2020 Census Operational Plan.

The 2020 Census will be easy to respond to, because it will be our most automated and technologically advanced census ever. In 2020, Americans will be able to respond from anywhere – by mail, phone, or online using a laptop, tablet or smartphone. We’re replacing paper and pencil with mobile devices for enumerators who visit nonresponding households. We’ll also count people using information they have already given to the government, if they don’t respond after we’ve provided them with multiple opportunities to participate. The 2016 Census Test is a vital step in operationalizing all of these innovations. Based on its results, we’ll refine many of the innovative and cost-saving procedures and methods in the plan for use in 2020.

We’re now more than halfway to 2020, and we’re planning, researching, testing, and getting feedback to ensure that responding to the census is easy and secure. By using the innovations that are laid out in the 2020 Census Operational Plan and that are being tested in 2016, we’ll be able to avoid an estimated $5 billion in costs (compared to the projected cost of using the same methods as the 2010 Census).

If you live in Harris County or Los Angeles County, I encourage you to learn more about the 2016 Census Test by visiting The 2020 Census will be unlike any other in our history. Your participation is critical to testing the innovations that will make the 2020 Census easier than ever to respond to, save taxpayers money, and ensure a complete and accurate census. Happy Census Day!


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Planning and Testing for the 2020 Census in Harris County, Texas

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today I am visiting Harris County, Texas, one of two sites now taking part in the 2016 Census Test that will help us prepare for the decennial census in 2020. The census is the most important barometer of population change in America – an issue that’s increasingly important here in the Houston area. Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program announced that the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land gained 159,000 new residents last year, the largest gain of any metro area in the nation.

This is a time of transition and growth for the Houston area. Census data is the way that America measures population growth and change. Local areas rely on our statistics for planning where to build new schools and roads.  Businesses use our data to track economic and demographic trends – for example, the Greater Houston Partnership uses Census Bureau statistics to provide information to companies and attract new jobs to the area. And each year, the federal government distributes more than $400 billion to states and communities based on Census Bureau data. The 2020 Census will provide critical information that empowers the more than 4.5 million people and over 95,000 businesses with paid employees in communities across Harris County and across the country.


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Director Thompson talks with Khalilat Adesokan, Tonya Netters and Fred Darden of Goodwill Industries of Houston, a 2016 Census Test partner and a trusted voice in the community.

The 2016 Census Test is part of the extensive research and testing that will help us make key decisions about how the next census will be carried out. The 2020 Census will be the most automated and technologically advanced census ever. Americans will be able to answer the questionnaire from anywhere – by mail, phone, or online using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

The test currently underway in Texas and California is a large-scale implementation of innovations that will make the 2020 Census easier than ever to respond to, while saving taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way. We’re now more than halfway to the 2020 Census, and we’re doing everything we can – planning, researching, testing, and getting feedback – to ensure that responding to it is easy and secure. Based on the results of the 2016 Census Test, we’ll refine many of the innovative and cost-saving procedures and methods in our plan.

Thank you to the residents of Harris County for your participation in this critical census test. I’m also grateful for the support of local officials and our partners – especially from schools, which have been crucial in raising awareness about the test and its importance to students and their families.

The 2016 Census Test is critical to ensuring a complete and accurate census in 2020, one that will give America the data it needs to make good policies and decisions for its growing population. You can track the results of the 2016 Census Test and other developments in our planning for the 2020 Census – and give us your input – at

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Opportunity Data Set Powered by U.S. Census Bureau Information

Written by: John H. Thompson

This afternoon, I attended the launch of the Opportunity Project at the White House. The Opportunity Project is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that uses Census Bureau data to help cities and local governments use new, curated, open data to account for how they use federal housing dollars.

The Opportunity Project’s curated data set is a new way that the federal government is collaborating with local leaders, technologists, non-profits and community members to leverage data to expand access to opportunity and fair housing across the country. Through this data set – which is derived from American Community Survey data and other Census Bureau sources – users can navigate a wealth of information on access to jobs, transit and schools. Armed with this information on neighborhood-level opportunities and challenges, communities can expand access to opportunity for their members.


Director Thompson speaks about The Opportunity Project.

As part of the project, in January the government brought together eight cities and a dozen private sector and non-profit software development teams to use Opportunity Data to create user-friendly digital tools that help communities navigate and visualize information about their neighborhoods. Some of the participants included developers from Zillow, Redfin and Socrata; experts from the Urban Institute, Ford Foundation and Esri; and local data leads from New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Today, the developers launched their tools, which visualize everything from school test scores to community health outcomes to median commute times. In addition, the White House launched the Opportunity interactive site with the curated data set packaged in an accessible format. This information is now at the fingertips of local leaders, community organizers, non-profits, media, and families to use in creative and innovative ways.


U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, introduces Census Bureau Director John Thompson at the White House rollout of the Opportunity Project.

The Opportunity Project is just one example of how the Census Bureau is working to make its data widely and easily accessible. HUD and the Census Bureau have been closely partnering on data outreach for the past year, including on CitySDK, which makes it easier to build products with open data (including the Opportunity data set) from the federal government. The Opportunity Project deepens our engagement with software developers, in conjunction with the newly created Commerce Data Service as well as the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Domestic Policy Council and Office of Management and Budget. We look forward to continuing to leverage our technology and data in the future to help facilitate agencies and the public in further expanding access to opportunity and fair housing.

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Innovation and Modernization in FY 2017

Written by: John H. Thompson

The mission of the U.S. Census Bureau is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the Nation’s people and economy.  To accomplish this mission, we’re continually innovating ways to modernize our data collection methods and disseminating activities for the 21st century.

FY 2017 is a critical year for innovation at the Census Bureau. One of our major priorities is our commitment to cost containment while maintaining data quality. Our plans for the 2020 Census reflect this goal – it will be the most automated, modern, and dynamic decennial census in history, with sweeping design changes in four key areas. We designed the 2020 Census to cost less per housing unit than the 2010 Census (adjusted for inflation), while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy in counting all individuals once, only once, and in the right place.

We’re also working to contain costs by revamping technology that underpins our work. We’re rethinking the way we collect and process data – including expanding our internet and mobile data collection. These advances will consolidate costs, streamline our work, and reduce the burden on individuals and businesses who respond to all our censuses and surveys.

Another major area of innovation is in unlocking the potential of our data. Businesses, policy makers, and the American public rely on our economic statistics to make data-driven decisions, and in FY 2017, we aim to meet their demands for more accurate, timely and granular data. We’ll deliver a full suite of enhanced macroeconomic indicators to drive decisions on investments, economic growth and job creation. By accelerating and enhancing a substantial number of key economic indicators, we can cumulatively lead to a more precise measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In addition, we’re harnessing the potential of “Big Data” to create new data products and expand our existing products to transform how Americans can find, connect, and use these improved economic data.

Finally, we’re thinking outside the box to tackle some long-standing challenges. For example, we’re using aerial imagery to detect areas where addresses have changed in the U.S. – part of the geographic foundation for nearly every economic and social data product that the Census Bureau produces. We’re also researching new ways to balance the nation’s need for detailed social, economic and housing information with the need to minimize the burden of people who respond to our surveys. Innovation in survey design and data collection can help us reduce that burden while still providing communities and businesses with the data they need to make informed choices.

To learn more about how the Census Bureau plans to innovate and modernize to meet that challenge and fulfill our mission, check out the infographic below.


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