UCB Libraries

Learner's Lunch:
Finding US Data

Places to Start for Data

  • Statistical Abstract of the United States
    This site links to tables for data collected for the US, by all the various agencies. You can browse using the topic areas on the left, or search using the search box on the left. My favorite feature is that you can actually follow the link at the bottom of a table to more data. For example, if you go to this table on marital status: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2010/tables/10s0056.pdf, at the bottom of the table is the citation with a live link to the US Census Bureau's page for more data, with different granularity. So, Stat Abs is both a source of data and an index/guide to other US data publications and sources.
  • Census Bureau   
    Census A-Z Subject List
    Know the topic you are interested in? You can use the subject list to take you straight to a page listing the various data sets and reports on that topic. While there are some links to non-demographic and economic figures, these pages do not have all the data produced by the US.
  • Research and Subject Guides Database
    This database contains all the guides produced by librarians at CU-Boulder. While there are guides to statistics in here, there are also guides to topics that might lead you to the group that produces a particular statistical resource

Two Places to Find Census Data

American Factfinder
This site is the place to go for data sets from the Census Bureau. These are the main features of this site:

Fact Sheets
This is a quick way to get information on the United States. To limit this to your community fill out the box in the top right corner. For example:
  • Put in Boulder, CO.
  • This will let you choose either the city or county of Boulder. (choose the county)
  • On this table, you can choose "show more" to see additional variables. Try it with Social Characteristics.
  • Want to download this data to create charts or graphs? Click Print/Download in the upper right corner and choose download. You can save the data as an excel file for later use.
Factfinder screenshot
Notes on Fact Sheets:

The default data you get is for the American Community Survey.  The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years. About three million housing unit addresses are selected annually, from every county in the nation. Collecting data every year provides more up-to-date information throughout the decade about the U.S. population at the local community level.


Small areas: Data for small areas, including tracts and block groups, will not be available in the ACS until after 2010. American Community Survey estimates provide information about the characteristics of population and housing for areas over a specified period of time. American Community Survey single-year and multiyear estimates contrast with “point-in-time” estimates like the decennial census. Five years of American Community Survey data are needed to produce estimates comparable to the estimates produced from the Census 2000 long form.

Group Quarters: "Group quarters" data was not collected in the ACS until 2006. Group quarters include such places as college residence halls, residential treatment centers, skilled nursing facilities, group homes, military barracks, correctional facilities, and workers' dormitories. While this data was collected from 2006, it will not be available in all ACS data until after the 2010 census comes out (in 2011 or 2012).

Availability/Estimate Size: Beginning with the 2005 ACS, and continuing every year thereafter, one-year estimates are available for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more. This includes the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 800 counties, and 500 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others. Beginning with the 2008 ACS and continuing every year, three year estimates are available for geographic areas with a population of 20,000 or more, including the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 1,800 counties, and 900 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others. For areas with a population less than 20,000, five-year estimates from 2005 to 2009 will be available in 2010. Figuring out which estimates to use can be tricky, for assistance, check out the Census Bureau's handy FAQ on this topic.

Remember when reporting data from the ACS to include the Margin of Error.

Custom Data Sets (ACS or Decennial Census)
Use the same methodology to create custom data sets from the American Community Survey or decennial census.

If you prefer to follow the steps, check out the instructions under the video. To view the video in full screen, click the tiny monitor icon in the bottom right corner. Step-by-Step instructions, as demoed in the video above:
  • Choose the appropriate data sets. In most cases the larger year samples are better to use, but if you only want to examine one year or have more current data, use the one-year samples (which only exist for communities larger then 65,000).
  • Choose "Custom Table" in the box to the right of the data set.
  • First, you need to select your geographic location. This can be done down to the zip code or block level. Choose a variety of levels, to see how this works. Here is a step-by-step example for a selection of US, state, and city level data:
    • Choose "County" in the first box
    • Click "Colorado" in second box.
    • Click "Boulder County" in the third box.
    • Click "Add" at the bottom of the colored section.
    • Choose "Place" in the first box.
    • Choose "Colorado in the second box.
    • Click "Boulder city" in the third box.
    • Click "Add" at the bottom of the colored section.
    • You should see three places in the box under the Add.
    • Click Next
  • Now you are selecting your variables. Unless you know exactly what you are looking forward, the second tab "by subject" is easiest to use. So click on that. Follow these steps for a sample set of data:
    • Choose "Population Totals" under the "Population and Housing Unit Totals and Geographic Concepts," then click search.
    • Choose "B01003. Total Population," then click go.
    • Check the box next to total, then click Add.
    • Your choice should appear in the bottom box.
    • Now go back to the top and Choose "Ancestry" under the "Population Totals Race and Ethnic Groups," then click search.
    • Numerous choices will appear, you want to choose the "C04003. Total Ancestry Reported," then click go. (Note: B tables are more detailed and go more in-depth, whereas C tables are collapsed to bigger categories. For smaller communities with detailed questions C often gives you more results.)
    • A new box will appear with a list of all the ancestries people filled in. Check the ones of interest to you. Then click "Add."
    • The ones you chose should appear in the box under the "Add." Then click next.
  • Ignore those boxes on the bottom of the screen, just choose "Show Result."
  • Here is your table!
  • Want to download the data? Choose "print/download" and then "download" and choose your preferred format.
  • If you want to add or subtract variables, click on the link Data Elements at the top.  If you want to add or subtract geographical elements, click on the Geography link.
Social Explorer CU
This is a subscription database that is only available on campus, but it has great maps and data sets you won't find in American Factfinder.

Maps (you can also click maps on the home page)

These maps are available back to 1790. Now before you get too excited, the data for Colorado doesn't go back that far. The data must have been collected in the Decennial Census, so the 1880 census is the first one with data for Colorado.

Want to save this? Well, currently there is only one option for saving, exporting it to Power Point (which you can find under "file" on the left above the map).

Reports (again you can also click reports on the home page)

Data is available back to 1790, but by decade. You can also find a nice set of data on religion back to 1980 on these pages from the Association of Religion Data archives.

This database works exactly the same as the American Factfinder data sets, except that in some cases it will not have the search and subject capabilities you had in Factfinder.

Colorado Government Statistical Information
Guide to selected print and electronic publications, as well as web sites, maintained by state agencies in Colorado.

Tips for Finding Statistical Data

  • Who would be tracking this data? Can you identify a governmental source (federal, state or local or maybe all three? Can you identify an organization? Find their web site and look for links with the words, data or statistics or reports or research.
  • Who would be using this information? For example, other researchers might have tracked this data and used it in a published article or book. Look for publications on your topic and see if they include data, graphs or tables. Look at the footnotes for the source of the information.
  • Sometimes you will need to expand the universe of your data. If you need small area statistics, such as a school district and you can’t find data at that level, you might try looking for city county or zip code data instead.
  • If you find data that is similar but not exactly what you are looking for, it’s worth contacting the organization or the person listed as the author. For government agencies or organizations, there is usually a Contact Us link. For articles or books, you can usually find an email or address for the author. People are often very responsive to your requests.
  • Looking for really current data? It usually takes some time for data to be collected and reported.
Other great sources for US data

  • Lexis/Nexis Statistical Datasets CU
    This resource aggregates hundreds of data sets from the US government and commercial vendors and makes that data available through a single interface, which is interactive and customizable. View the data in side-by-side tables and graphs. A calculator tool and a statistical analysis function are provided.
  • Data.gov    
    Data.gov provides ways to find, download and use datasets generated by the US government. What is currently available are datasets from US federal executive branch agencies. Data are available in three ways: through the "raw data" catalog, using tools, and through the geodata catalog. Use the raw data catalog to download machine-readable, platform-independent datasets. Use the tools catalog to find links to agency tools or web pages that allow you to mine datasets.

To access the libraries’ subscription databases from off-campus, you will need to download a piece of software called VPN, which you can find from the library web page. You must have an Identikey and password to use the VPN.

Need more help?

We are always happy to answer questions or set up appointments to have a more in-depth discussion of your research.

Leanne Walther Jennie Gerke Research Desk (2nd floor)
leanne.walther@colorado.edu jennifer.gerke@colorado.edu govpubs@colorado.edu
303-735-5750 303-735-6804 303-492-8834