Even if you don’t follow NCAA men’s basketball, you’re probably aware that the 2013 NCAA Tourney is upon us. The first round games start tonight, so if you’re planning on filling out a bracket this year, I hope you’ve gotten started.

In the spirit of March Madness, the Census Bureau has developed their own bracketology-themed population game. You should take a few minutes and play a round. It’s pretty fun.

You’ll find match-ups of states or metro areas, and you simply pick the one with the larger population. You’ll go through all the pairings until you’ve selected what you think is the state or metro area with the largest population in the country.


The Census Bureau has developed quite a few tools and games like this to showcase their data.  You can find the entire gallery on their webpage:

Same old story… U.S. is getting older and more diverse

This is my third and final blog post about the Census Bureau’s special report on Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010.  My first two posts covered information from the first three chapters of the report –  the basic information about urban areas and an overview of their population change in the last decade and population density in the United States. In this post I’ll present the biggest takeaways of the final two chapters, which provide data on race, Hispanic origin, age, and gender composition. Continue reading

How close are we, really? Population densities in U.S. Cities

In a previous blog post I talked about a new report from the Census Bureau on patterns of population change in U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan areas from 2000 to 2010. My previous post covered Chapters 1 and 2 of the report, which talk about the basic characteristics of metropolitan areas and give an overview of the population change over the last decade.

In today’s post I’ll talk about Chapter 3, which covers population density in the U.S. Population density tells us about the concentration of people in residential areas.  From this measure we get an idea of how closely people live to each other.  In this country, population density varies from more than 100,000 people per square mile in places like New York to just over zero people per square mile in places like remote Alaska.

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U.S. residents love a metropolis

The Census Bureau came out with a new special report in September about the patterns of population change in U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan areas from 2000 to 2010. The report is chock-full of data about the most populated areas of the country, and the authors have turned all of that data into lots of brief take-aways, useful maps, and nice-looking charts for data users.

There is too much in this report to cover in a single blog post, so for this one I’ll give a brief summary of Chapters 1 and 2, which cover the basic information about these areas and give an overview of the population change over the last decade.

“Metropolitan statistical areas” were developed as an official concept during the 1940s, when “it became evident that the value of metropolitan data produced by federal agencies would be greatly enhanced if agencies used a single set of geographic definitions for the nation’s largest centers of population and economic activity.”

A metro area, as it’s more commonly called, is an “area with a large population nucleus together with the adjacent communities that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that nucleus.” Metro areas contain at least one urban area of 50,000 people or more. In 2003, “micro areas” were introduced as a new concept. These new, smaller areas are essentially the same as metro areas, they just contain a population core of 10,000-50,000 residents. These areas, while not even covering half of the U.S. land mass, cover the vast majority of the population in the U.S. – 84 percent of people live in a metro area and another 10 percent live in a micro area.

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Protein Folding and the Census Challenge

Dustin was the first to tell me the story of how online gamers, in just 3 weeks, decoded an AIDS protein that had stumped scientific researchers for 15 years.  The story is that researchers at the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, in collaboration with the University of Washington Department of Biochemistry, created a computer game called FoldIt, which allows gamers around the world to play a game that solves scientific puzzles.  FoldIt allows players to “predict the shape of a protein and map it, using a game-like structure.  The better the model, the more points you get.”  Turning this task into a game motivated thousands of people to participate, and most of the players didn’t even have a background in biochemistry.  This protein puzzle is just one example of a relatively recent trend of crowdsourcing (coined from “crowd” and “outsourcing”), where an individual or organization proposes to a group of individuals the voluntary undertaking of a task.

The Census Bureau is jumping on the bandwagon, inviting us to enter the Census Return Rate Challenge for the chance to win some cash.

On the Census Bureau Director’s Blog, Tom Mesenbourg explains:

The 2010 Census achieved a return rate of 79.3 percent, which was the rate of returned forms for all occupied housing units. However, census and survey return rates vary considerably across geographic areas. For example, 2010 Census mail-form return rates ranged across states from a high of 82 percent to a low of 65 percent, with even more variation at the neighborhood or census tract level. The Census Return Rate Challenge asks participants to model these variations using predictive variables found in the updated Census Planning Database which includes information from both the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey.

During the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau saved about $85 million in operational costs for every percentage point increase in the nation’s participation rate by mail. A postage paid envelope cost taxpayers 42 cents, compared to $57 for an enumerator to visit the household. The winning model will help us develop more efficient and effective data collection strategies for both our ongoing household surveys and the 2020 Census.

The competition ends November 1, so get crowdsourcing!

The U.S. Didn’t Win the Olympics After All

One thing we heard a lot throughout the Olympics coverage was the medal count. At the end of every day, NBC would flash up its graphic and Bob Costas would tell us that the U.S. or China was in the lead. Every time that happened, my demographer hackles were raised.

Turns out, reporting on Olympics medal statistics is a lot like reporting on Virginia statistics. If the VA media chose to report just raw numbers as measures of success, they would pretty much always conclude that areas of Northern Virginia are doing the best. Those areas have more educated people, more professional workers, more people moving in, etc, but a lot of those statistics are just driven by an underlying population that is much larger than that of localities in other parts of the Commonwealth. Reporting just the total medal count in the Olympics makes it look like the U.S. and China are the most successful at the Games. But are they really?

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Food Deserts in Virginia

A relatively new term has come about in the last decade’s discussions about the obesity crisis in America – food deserts. These are areas of the country where residents have limited access to supermarkets or grocery stores. Many believe that the identification and eradication of food deserts is important, because educating individuals about healthy choices only goes so far if those individuals do not have access to or cannot afford the healthy options. First lady Michelle Obama believes so strongly in this idea that she has even made the eradication of Food Deserts part of her “Let’s Move!” initiative.

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