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Data Resources Guide: U.S. Census Bureau

The State Library of North Carolina is a Coordinating Agency of the State Data Center. Contact us for assistance with demographic questions regarding North Carolina geographies.

Census Programs

The Census Bureau, part of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, is the largest statistical agency in the United States. They produce numerous censuses, surveys, and programs, which help allocate funds, research, and planning. Use the platform to access demographic and economic data from the most extensive censuses and surveys.

Censuses Surveys Programs

Decennial Census

The census of population and housing is the largest survey conducted by the Census Bureau in years ending in 0 (zero). Article I of the Constitution requires that a census be taken every ten years to reapportion congressional seats of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is the basis of many statistical programs reporting characteristics of the U.S. population. It strives to count all U.S. residents on April first of the Census year. It also allows lawmakers to distribute federal funding based on findings. 

Census questions may change decade to decade depending upon the information lawmakers seek. To see what questions were asked decade to decade see the United States Census Bureau's Through the Decades.

1790 1830 1870 1910 1950 1990
1800 1840 1880 1920 1960 2000
1810 1850 1890 1930 1970 2010
1820 1860 1900 1940 1980 2020

The 2020 Census 

2020 Census Results 

2030 Census Preparation

American Community Survey

 The U.S. Census Bureau developed the American Community Survey (ACS) to respond to the rapidly changing population allowing the publication of data estimates on an annual basis.  Unlike the decennial census, it is a continuous rolling monthly sample of single-year and five-year estimates. The purpose of the ACS is not to count every person in a community or town but rather to provide characteristics over a given period of time. It provides detailed demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics. ACS Data is usually released twice a year; a one year or 12 month survey and a five-year or 60 month survey. 

When to use 1-year or 5-year estimates

1-year estimates 5-year estimates
12 months of collected data 60 months of collected data
Data for areas with population of 65,000 or more Data for all areas down to Block Group
Smallest sample size Largest sample size
Less reliable than 5-year data More reliable 
Most current Least current
Best used when Best used when
Currency is more important than precision Precision is more important then currency
Analyzing large populations Analyzing small populations and geographies