Thursday, November 30, 2006

Know Your Data

Back in the old days, when I was just a kid pretending to be a demographer (the fire ant Census was particularly difficult, by the way), the Census Bureau issued its data in an old-fashioned but remarkably useful medium known as paper. This meant page after page of eyesight-challenging numbers. At the time it seemed like a huge amount of data. How naive we were!

But paper, youngsters, is a more limiting medium than cyberspace. The data released by the Census Bureau had to fit into the paper volumes they published and mailed out to eager data miners. These limitations still shape much of what the Census Bureau publishes on the Internet, since users often want to be able to see trends over time, and maintaining the same data sets (and presentation formats) makes it easier to do this.

But some data, such as population statistics, is now available in basically raw form. This means that rather than five-year age groups, you can get monthly population estimates by single year of age. This provides data users with the opportunity to create their own age groups, such as 18-to-49 year olds, but it also means that if you want five-year age groups, you will have to add them up yourself. (Or—shameless plug alert—get them from New Strategist Publications. Motto: “Be Glad We Can Add.”)

As the amount and level of data detail swells, it also becomes a bit trickier to navigate through all the different data sets and sources. You might not know, for example, that a particular data set on the Census website was discontinued years ago and is now obsolete. (Household projections.) Or you might be confused about which set of population estimates to use since they are now available monthly.(Use the July 1 estimates.)

As yet another service to all eight of our loyal readers, we are instituting a new feature: Know Your Data. This series will answer your burning questions (ACS or CPS??) as well as questions you never thought to ask (Who created the original poverty threshold?). Feel free to email questions you would like us to address. And stay tuned for our first fact-filled offering in the series, appearing on this blog just as soon as the boss stops looking over this way.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of U.S. households with no
adults who speak fluent English: 3

Source: Census Bureau

Monday, November 20, 2006

TV's "Coveted" Demographic

For the life of me, I will never understand why television advertisers are so fixated on the 18-to-49 demographic. This morning, as I perused various online news sources, I came across an article on MSNBC headlined Baby boomers upset TV isn't all about them.

Although the headline suggests this is just more whining from spoiled Boomers, it is clear from the article that the television industry (and I would argue the entertainment industry in general) suffers from myopia when it comes to "older" viewers. Advertisers are charged higher rates for television programming that attracts viewers under age 50, and in particular those under age 40. This means that when Boomers get home from a hard day at the office, turning on the television may not be the relaxing experience they desire. Rather, it may be an exercise in frustration as they wade through program after program aimed at a much younger audience.

The theory seems to be that capturing young adults as customers will create a cadre of loyal buyers for life. But this is ridiculous in the 21st century when "brand loyalty" is an oxymoron. Rather, marketers need to look at who has the inclination and the bucks to buy their products. More often than not, this means the 40-plus age group. Not that I really expect the entertainment industry to suddenly change its focus. But eventually, advertisers may change their minds for them as they become more conscious of the need to appeal to older customers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Smack Dab in the Middle

If you draw two lines—one running North-South, the other East-West—so that each divides the population in half, the point of intersection is known as the "median center," or put more plainly, Smack Dab in the Middle. Located in what East and West Coasters like to call Fly-Over Country, the precise location of Smack Dab has been shifting since the nation's early days when most folks lived east of the Mississippi River. For a long time it was located in Ohio, but since 1950 it has moved steadily southwest. As of the last Census in 2000, Smack Dab had relocated to Daviess County, Indiana.

Curious about the real Smack Dab, I googled Daviess County, Indiana. It might be the center of the U.S. in a very strict sense, but it seems it could hardly be further from the center of U.S. culture. This is Amish Country. Its Visitor's Bureau promotes a tour of an Amish Village and a visit to the Black Buggy Amish Restaurant and Bakery. You can shop at country stores and take home a handsewn quilt.

While this gives you a quite charming picture of the of nation's median center, if you are seeking more prosaic enlightenment, you will want to turn to the Census Bureau, a treasure trove (or impenetrable jungle, depending on your viewpoint) of information. There is a QuickFacts site, for example, where you get a U.S. map, ripe for the clicking. Click on Indiana and up pops an informative data table. If you need information on a more specific location within Indiana, there are buttons at the top of the page that allow you to select a specific city or county. The Daviess County data table doesn't tell you that it is “Amish Country,” but it does reveal that there are 30,466 inhabitants residing in 10,894 households. More than two-thirds own their homes and the county's median household income is $35,967. The table includes statistics for all of Indiana for comparison.

Or you could just turn to Wikipedia, where you would discover that in April 2006 Daviess County switched time-zone allegiance. But then, it does seem more fitting that the center of the U.S. population would set its clocks to Central Time rather than Eastern Time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Generation Gap

Median age of the U.S. population by race and Hispanic origin:
(the median is the age at which half are older and half are younger)

White non-Hispanic 40.4
Asian 35.1
Black 31.3
Hispanic 27.2

Source: Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rankings: Born in State

Take a guess: Among the 50 states, which one ranks first in the proportion of (native-born) residents who were born in the state? The surprising answer is New York. According to the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey rankings, 82.3 percent of New York's residents were born in-state. Other states with populations staying close to home are Louisiana (82.0 percent), Michigan (80.5 percent), Pennsylvania (80.1 percent), and Ohio (77.9 percent).

The national average is 67.5 percent. In other words, two-thirds of Americans born in the United States live in the state in which they were born. The state with the fewest residents born in-state is Nevada, with only 26 percent of residents born there. Also close to the bottom are Florida (40.9 percent), Arizona (41.1 percent), Alaska (42.7 percent), and Wyoming (43.1 percent).