20 Years of Census.gov

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Two decades ago, the World Wide Web was in its infancy compared to today and if you wanted Census Bureau statistics, you had no choice but to go to your local library to look up the information. All of that changed in 1994 with the launch of census.gov, one of the first government agencies to have a public website.

If you visited census.gov back then, you likely did so from a dial up internet connection, and you would have only found access to 1990 Census statistics.

Times have changed. Today, all of the statistics we produce are available at your fingertips and you can even respond to many of our surveys online.

Over the years, census.gov had had many “faces” as we have tried to revise the site to meet the demands of the day. Today, we are launching a new census.gov, built to showcase America’s data resources through topical navigation.

The new census.gov brings together demographic and economic content around topics such as health, income and poverty, education, housing and population.

 If you are interested in our health statistics, you can now access the “Health” web page to learn about Census Bureau statistics on disability, fertility, health insurance, healthcare industries, small area health insurance estimates, HIV/AIDS, social assistance and industries. In addition, theme pages will highlight a variety of content from working papers, publications, interactive tools and more. To help you find what you need, many of the pages also now include links to related content and popular services at the bottom.

While the first census.gov launched only five years after the world wide web began, it is not the only example of how the Census Bureau has always been on the leading edge of technology in the government. From Herman Hollerith’s first tabulating machine, used for the 1890 Census, to UNIVAC 1, one of the first civilian computers, to advancements in how we deliver our statistics to you today, we are using the latest technological advancements to better measure America.

With the launch of our Application Programming Interface in 2012, containing three decades worth of census statistics, and our mobile apps, we are taking advantage of the latest technology to change how we do business.

How will the face of census.gov and the Census Bureau look in another 20 years? No doubt the possibilities will be endless. One thing is certain, however, we will continue to use 21st century technology to meet our centuries-old mission of making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible to you than ever before.

Posted in Digital Transformation | 2 Comments

Measuring Our Economy—200 Years and Still Counting

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Written by: John H. Thompson

More than 200 years ago, we began collecting information about America’s economy, providing the first foundation for the detailed portrait we have today.

Today, we continue this long tradition by releasing the first results from the 2012 Economic Census. A precursor to the modern-day Economic Census was initiated for the 1810 Census when Congress approved a bill requiring the collection of information on manufacturing establishments.

Since before the first population Census in 1790, James Madison proposed asking about agricultural, commercial and manufacturing data, saying “If the plan was pursued in taking every future census, it would give them an opportunity of marking the progress of the society, and distinguishing the growth of every interest.”

Taken every five years, the Economic Census provides statistics that are the cornerstone of measuring the U.S. economy, covering more than 1,000 industries. The Economic Census gives us a detailed measure of America’s businesses and economy, producing nearly all of the key source data use to calculate GDP. These results provide the first comprehensive look at the economy since the recession.

For the business owners that provided this information to us, we offer a sincere thank you for helping us to measure the health of America’s economy through consistent, comparable and comprehensive statistics.

The first preliminary results reveal, for example, the extraordinary growth of the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector: the number of establishments in this sector rose by 26.2 percent between 2007 and 2012. This growth has also been reflected repeatedly in our population estimates in recent years, showing rapid growth in places like North Dakota and Texas, which are rich in these resources.

We also see trends in other economic sectors. Health care remains a topic of conversation in the U.S. and the Economic Census findings show the increasing size and scope of this sector. It continued to have the most employees and the highest numerical increase compared to other sectors, up almost 1.8 million in employees from 2007. In 2012, more than 18 million people worked in the health care and social assistance sector with the largest component of that change being ambulatory health care services which includes doctors’ offices.

In addition, the retail trade sector had the most business locations in 2012 (nearly 1.1 million) while the utilities sector had the least (17,804). However, utilities reported the highest annual payroll per employee ($89,470).

When we look at sales, we see the wholesale trade sector reported the highest sales in 2012 (nearly $7.2 trillion) followed by manufacturing (over $5.7 trillion) and retail trade ($4.2 trillion).

The information released today is only a preview of what is to be published over the coming months. More detailed statistics from the Economic Census ─ for states, counties, and cities, and with greater industry detail ─ will tell an ongoing story about America’s economy. Ultimately, every state and community will have an economic profile to assist economic development, planners, businesses and entrepreneurs in creating new opportunities and jobs across the nation.

The economic census provides consistent benchmark data but it also evolves to reflect the emergence of new industries. To that end, for the 2012 Economic Census, for the first time, we will publish statistics on new industries such as the electric power generation industry for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Stay tuned as we continue to tell the story of America’s economy through the 2012 Economic Census results.

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Census Bureau Budget Update—Investment Now Will Save Taxpayer Dollars Later

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Written by: John H. Thompson

I’m pleased to announce that the Census Bureau’s FY 2014 appropriation of $944 million allows us to turn the corner from the program reductions we’ve had to make over the last couple of years. With this funding, we can advance our agenda of innovation and increase the amount of data that we provide to the nation.

Data are the fuel that power the 21st century economy and America’s dynamic economy require equally dynamic measures to capture and disseminate those changes. Unleashing more data is a key priority in the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”

This funding allows us to continue a robust 2020 Census Research and Testing Program. We will test key design changes so that we can conduct a 2020 Census that contains costs while also maintaining quality.

The FY 2014 budget also allows us to finish 2012 Economic Census data collection activities (including the Survey of Business Owners) and begin releasing important data and statistics. Finally, it provides critical funding for the release of monthly, quarterly, and annual economic and demographic data upon which critical measures of the economy depend – including Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other principal economic indicators, including the Supplemental Poverty Measure.

The good news is that the President’s FY 2015 budget aligns with the FY 2014 appropriations. Our FY 2015 request supports critical, targeted investments in research, testing and IT infrastructure. Millions in investment in research, testing and enterprise systems will save billions in the 2020 Census and result in smart system solutions across the enterprise. The budget request also supports continued investments in the comprehensive and relevant data that are necessary for informed decision-making by the private sector, public sector and individuals. These investments are balanced with efficiencies and attention to reduced burden for those who respond to our surveys.

FY 2015 will be the final year of funding for the early research, planning, development and testing for the 2020 Census, and is the first year of funding operations and infrastructure investment to incorporate the results of the research and testing program. The program will focus on completing research and testing needed to make major design decisions required to contain the cost of the 2020 Census by the end of FY15. The funding in this year’s budget allows us to conduct the necessary research to re-engineer the way we conduct the 2020 Census.

Using information already provided to the government to gather data on households that do not initially respond to the census; reengineering field operations; leveraging the Internet to make it more convenient for people to fill out their questionnaire; and developing new methods to ensure we have an up to date address list are all promising, cost-saving areas.

We are optimistic that the results of this research have the potential to save the American taxpayers more than $5 billion.

The FY 2015 budget request also supports a Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing Initiative that will create integrated and standardized systems, replacing unique, survey-specific systems. This solution will work not only for the 2020 Census, but also for all of our survey operations.

The budget supports major data releases for the 2012 Economic Census, which are the basis for key economic indicators like BEA’s Gross Domestic Product. It also supports planning for the 2017 Economic Census and Census of Governments.

Finally, the FY 2015 budget contains funding to enhance the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Business Database. The improvements will enable the database to provide more information about business innovation and entrepreneurship. Greater access to new data products will increase our understanding of innovation in the U.S. economy.

As you can see, these are exciting times for the Census Bureau. Much work needs to be done to accomplish these proposed improvements, but all of us at the Bureau will be working diligently with our partners at the Department of Commerce to communicate the importance of fully funding the FY 2015 request so that we can keep moving toward our ambitious goals. Census data touches every American and informs daily business decisions, so we are focused, as we must be, on ensuring American tax dollars are invested wisely in the Census Bureau’s current and future efforts.

Posted in About the Agency | 1 Comment

Changing the Way We Do Business

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Written by John H. Thompson

Since 1790, we have collected the data that tell America’s story—about our people, places and economy. However, as technology changes, we are updating our processes at every level, including how we best deliver the resulting statistics to you.

You may have already noticed these changes, through our website, our application programming interface, our Web and mobile apps, and other data dissemination efforts. Guided by customer feedback, we are investigating a range of ways to improve our data dissemination capabilities at the Census Bureau.  

As we continue to improve our processes, we are excited to announce that we will be seeking a Presidential Innovation Fellow. The Census Bureau collects and produces a wealth of geospatial, demographic, and economic data resources, and is seeking an individual to conduct innovative research that will draw upon these diverse data sets to produce products and tools that support increased economic growth and further the planning for the 2020 Census.

The Presidential Innovation Fellow’s Data Innovation effort focuses on making the government’s information resources more accessible for the public and entrepreneurs to create new products, services and jobs by bringing innovators from outside the government to work in agencies for specific three- to six-month periods.

The Presidential Innovation Fellow is just another way we are changing how we do business. In a few weeks, you will see the launch of the new census.gov, which is now available to preview in beta.  In addition, you may be familiar with some of our other digital initiatives, such as the ability to respond to many of our surveys online, including the American Community Survey. 

New data tools, such as Census Explorer, make it easier to find the statistics you need. Our API is one example of how we are making our information more flexible and customizable so that developers can create their own tools, fueled by Census Bureau statistics. In addition, we have released two mobile apps, America’s Economy and dwellr, which allow you to quickly access economic and demographic statistics right from your smartphone and make data-driven decisions.

You may have a favorite among our other tools, such as QuickFacts, which averages 1 million visitors per month, or OntheMap, which provides information on where people work. Our recently updated Flows Mapper is another mapping tool that allows you to select a county in the U.S. and view the outbound, inbound and net migration flows for that county. Similar to QuickFacts, Easy Stats uses the Census Bureau’s API to give you quick and easy access to selected statistics collected through the American Community Survey. I encourage you to visit our website and explore the variety of demographic and economic statistics available through these tools.

I’m really excited about the prospect of welcoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow, who can leverage the great tools we at the Census Bureau have made available and help us to innovate further to provide statistics that help businesses grow to fuel economic growth and job creation.

Posted in Digital Transformation | Tagged , | 1 Comment

2014: Now is the Time for Change

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Written by John H. Thompson

 As I begin my first calendar year as director, I am laying out priorities and looking at what is on the horizon for 2014. This is a big year for us, with key milestones in planning for the 2020 Census, releasing the first statistics from the 2012 Economic Census and continuing to release statistics that measure how the nation’s population and economy are changing. I am eager to share our plans with you.

 I have had the privilege of serving as Census Bureau director for about six months now, and it has been a welcome return to the place where I spent a large part of my career. Prior to coming back to the Census Bureau, I spent 11 years at the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

 My background gives me both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the Census Bureau, which helps guide my decisions for an agency in transition. Now is the time to research and make changes in the way we conduct our surveys and the next census in 2020. It is also imperative to improve how we deliver America’s statistics back to taxpayers and businesses.

 While we continue to produce the quality statistics America relies upon for starting or growing a business and making informed decisions, we are also transforming the way we process surveys and censuses to make them more cost effective and timely. We know that many of you are looking to us to produce statistics more quickly. We must also produce them at a lower cost.

 As we plan for the 2020 Census, we are focusing on four areas of exploration: providing multiple ways for response (including online), re-engineering our field operations and using data already available to reduce the burden on respondents. In addition, we are looking at using information already available in the geo-spatial world for use in our address canvassing operations.

 Through the smart use of technology and existing government data sources, we are aiming for a 2020 Census that will provide substantial taxpayer savings while maintaining the highest quality and accuracy standards. In the coming months, I will blog more about our research and testing, including our 2014 test, beginning in April.

This year, we will deliver the first statistics from the 2012 Economic Census, which are essential to understanding the competitiveness of U.S. business and industry and conducting sound public and private sector planning. The economic census takes place every five years and is the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information about U.S. businesses from the national to the local level.

The Economic Census provides statistics that allow businesses, investors, policy makers, trade associations, chambers of commerce and others to answer vital questions, plan and grow. This spring, we will release the advance report from the Economic Census with preliminary totals for economic sectors. Additional reports will be released throughout the year and through 2016.

 We are also continuing to incorporate the valuable feedback from you and all of our stakeholders into making our statistics easier to access and improving our processes. My predecessors, including Dr. Robert Groves, have put in place a good framework and environment to allow for this kind of valuable collaboration and consultation with our stakeholders and other outside experts. I am committed to building on this strong foundation.

As part of our overall digital transformation, we have listened to your feedback, and we are redesigning our website to meet our centuries-old mission of making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible than ever before. In the coming weeks, you will see changes to our site. Soon, you will be able to preview a beta site, which will include improved thematic navigation. It will launch later this spring.

 I will continue posting updates in the weeks and months ahead and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Posted in About the Agency, Digital Transformation, Economy, Measuring America | 7 Comments