Is the Census Data Ready Yet?

Although Census boundaries have arrived, the Census 2020 population data won’t be here until the fall.  Read on for more details about how and why we have to wait.

The Decennial Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, and as its name suggests it is conducted once every ten years—on years ending in zero. The original reason for conducting a full count of the population was so that we could redraw Congressional Districts to have them be more representative of the population as it grew and changed over time. While that may still be the main reason for the count, it has grown into much more than redistricting alone. The Decennial Census along with the American Community Survey (ACS) provides data that helps determine funding for programs like Medicare as well as for loan programs and development projects across the nation. On a more micro-scale, this data is invaluable to community groups, researchers, and businesses as it provides insight into the social and economic breakdown of the communities that they study and serve.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated challenges are affecting the timing of Census Bureau data releases. Along with data publication delays, the Census Bureau is planning on releasing Redistricting Data for all states at once, as opposed to the rolling release schedule of the 2010 Census.

It is important to note that the Census Bureau has already released some data from the 2020 Census. The Census Geographies have already been released, meaning that you are able to see now how the shapes of geographies like Census Tracts or ZCTAs (Zip Code Tabulation Areas) have changed from 2010. These geographies don’t come with any demographic data though, as they are just the boundaries that will be used for the release of the newest data. The Census Bureau has also released the Redistricting File in it’s Legacy Format, and the new easier to read format. Both of these files will include some demographic and housing characteristics all the way to the Census Block level.

Further in the future, there is the release of the new Demographic and Housing Characteristics File (DHC) scheduled for some time in 2022. This file will include many more demographic and housing characteristics down to the Census Block level. When thinking about Census data, this file is probably what most people are looking for. This file replaces the old Summary File 1 from the Census Bureau, and with it are some changes. This file will no longer include tables that have counts by detailed race, Hispanic origin, tribes, and population by household/family types. This is due to the challenges the Census Bureau faced around privacy this round. They are looking into other solutions to still provide these tables in the future.

Below is the current release schedule for 2020 Decennial Census data in 2021:

  • Data Already released:
    • Census Geographies (February 12, 2021)
    • Apportionment Product (April 30, 2021)
    • Redistricting File Legacy Format (August 12, 2021)
    • Redistricting File (September 16, 2021)
  • Upcoming:
    • Demographic and Housing Characteristics File (2022)

This blog post will be updated with any further developments as they are released by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Our Data Team will move quickly to post the Redistricting File and any subsequent updates within a few weeks of release.