Using Census Data

Social vulnerability refers to the risks people face as a result of their socioeconomic status. There are a lot of ways to define social vulnerability and multiple things that can affect it; education, job skills, family, childhood circumstances, etc.

But in general, it refers to the social circumstances that place an individual or a group of people at a heightened risk. Of course to calculate that risk, researchers need to know a lot of information about the people living in a community.

It turns out the best way to do that is by using the responses to the U.S. Census. It’s the most accurate count of the population. And while most of the questionnaires sent out for the census are pretty basic, asking how many people live at a certain address and their ages, some questionnaires are much more detailed. Those forms ask about education, occupation, ethnicity, income, and a lot of other social information. That small subset of the population is used for sampling, in which small amounts of information are applied, using statistics, to make estimates about a larger set.

While census data was previously used primarily by governments, census data is now published in a wide variety of formats and is accessible not only to all levels of government, but also businesses, media, students and teachers, charities and researchers, and any citizen who is interested. Data can be represented visually or analyzed to show the difference between certain areas, or to understand the association between different personal characteristics. Census data offers a unique insight into small areas and small demographic groups that sample data would be unable to capture with precision.

Here are other ways census data is used:

  1. Drawing federal, state and local legislative districts
  2. Distributing more than $300 billion in federal funds
  3. Forecasting future transportation needs
  4. Planning for hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, emergency services, public safety services and other health care services
  5. Planning urban land use
  6. Calculating economic trends
  7. Drawing school district boundaries and planning for new schools
  8. Forecasting future housing needs


If you're interested in accessing census data, visit the official website.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!


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