The Trove of U.S. Census Bureau Stories

by February 7, 2020
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The U.S. Census Bureau has a lot of easily accessible tools and information. Here are some ideas to get started. (Photo credit to Pixabay)

The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the valuable tools a journalist can use. It can be a supplemental element to everyday business stories, as well as a reliable annual story when the Bureau releases annual reports. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

Employment/Unemployment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s updated employment report found that there were 501,000 fewer non-farm jobs created. The biggest revision change was in the non-private sector, where the top three jobs affected were leisure and hospitality, professional business services, and retail had the top benchmark revisions. Hospitality employment was reduced by 175,000; professional business services (i.e. IT, technology consulting, etc.) by 163,000; and retail by 146,400.

This report indicates that the economy is weaker than thought, despite President Trump’s tax cuts and higher federal spending, according to Market Watch. It likely was a factor in the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates

Trade, transportation, and utilities, as well as the utilities category, were the least affected by the revision. 

However, it may be too early to make sweeping predictions, as this benchmark was an annual preliminary step, said John Stewart, the National Benchmark Branch Chief of BLS. Stewart said it’s currently not known why this year’s benchmark estimate error was larger than the previous years because the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to sort through multiple sampling errors and microdata, data which is reported to them by state agencies. 

Stewart said the final Bureau of Labor Statistics benchmark report should be released in Feb. 2020., while Arizona’s should follow after in March. 

Poverty 

The poverty rate dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 14 states and Puerto Rico between 2017 and 2018. New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate of 7.6%, and Mississippi had one of the highest rates at 19.7%. Connecticut was the only state that had a poverty rate increase.  

Why has the poverty rate dropped? The Bureau has credited a rising national employment rate and government assistance programs, such as SNAP and Social Security. This is a prime opportunity to look at how these programs work in your state and compare it to the national average, as well as who receives, no longer receives, or can’t receive them.   

“Social Security moved 27.3 million people out of poverty, and is the largest anti-poverty program,” said Lina Fox, a statistician from the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority who were helped were people 65 and older. 

There are two measures of poverty: poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate. The supplemental poverty measure (SPM) takes into account individuals and families helped by government programs, such as refundable tax credits, housing assistance, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These individuals and families are not included in the official poverty rate measure, which only count cash income. 

The Census report noted that the numbers often “understate these programs’ anti-poverty impact because they don’t correct for the underreporting of government benefits in the survey data.”

Don’t forget to look at small area statistics, not just large urban areas.  

Health Care 

The uninsurance rate has gone up, particularly for children in public health insurance coverage, mostly because of Medicaid and CHIP coverages were declined. Coverages for Medicaid and CHIP fell for those under 6 years old, as well as for 6- to 11-year-olds. 

You can also compare by state. The national uninsured rate is 8.9%; how does your state rate? For instance, Texas has the highest uninsured rate of 17.7%, while Massachusetts and D.C. have the lowest rates. 

Compare private and public health insurance, as private coverage was more prevalent nationally. Don’t forget employment-covered health insurance, as well as the ins and outs of what is covered and what isn’t. 

Demographics 

The Bureau has demographic numbers on the general population and hosuing characteristics every 10 years, including age, sex, education, and race/ethnicity. It also has quick fact fact sheets on each state, making it easier to do compare/contrast stories.  

Besides these, the Bureau delves deeper into lifestyles and interpersonal relationships, such as unmarried couples living together, as well as same-sex couples. For instance, same-sex couples on average tend to have “higher incomes, have both people employed, and be more educated,” albeit with less likelihood of having children living with them. Over half were female households as well.