Administrative Data: Impacts on Decennial Census and Research

The Demographic Research area of the Center for Economic Studies (CES) within the U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for researching and developing innovative ways to use administrative records in decennial census and survey operations. Our team of demographers, economists, geographers, and sociologists evaluate a wide array of administrative data from other federal agencies, state governments, and third party organizations. We assess the quality and coverage of these datasets and investigate how they may be useful for the Census Bureau’s data collection and processing efforts.  In addition, we use linked census, survey, and administrative records data to conduct scholarly research and to create estimates that could not be created without linked data to better inform the American Public.

Much of the work we do hinges on the ability to link records for people across different data sources. We are able to do this because another area at the Census Bureau first uses personally identifiable information (PII), such as name, date of birth, etc., to assign anonymous unique identifiers to individuals in our census, survey, and administrative data sets. They then strip off all PII and provide an anonymized file that includes these unique identifiers to researchers like myself to investigate important research questions.

One type of analysis we often perform involves linking survey data to administrative records to see if responses to survey questions match what we find in administrative records for people found in both data sources. For example, my colleagues and I linked responses from the Current Population Survey (CPS) on Medicare coverage to Medicare enrollment data and measured the extent of survey misreporting of Medicare coverage.  In this study, we found that survey responses were mostly consistent with enrollment data but we did note a small undercount of Medicare coverage in the CPS. In another case, we linked responses by American Indians and Alaska Natives regarding Indian Health Service (IHS) coverage in the American Community Survey (ACS) to IHS Patient Registration data. With this study, we found much higher levels of discordance between survey responses and administrative records. While some of the differences we found were likely due in part to definitional differences between the data sources, our analysis also suggested true inconsistencies in reporting of Indian Health Service coverage.

We also use linked data to understand how people’s responses to decennial census and survey questions change over time. For example, we have examined responses to census and survey questions on race and Hispanic origin. In one study on American Indians and Alaska Natives, we found considerable changes in racial responses between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and by linking individuals to their responses in ACS data we were able to evaluate the characteristics of those who changed their race and those who did not.  In another project we evaluated how people reported their Hispanic origin in the 2000 and 2010 censuses and the ACS and examined the characteristics associated with a change in response, including the impact of changes in question wording and other data collection aspects.

My current work uses linked survey and administrative records data to increase our understanding of participation in social safety net programs.  This work is part of a joint project between the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service, as well as multiple state partners.  States that participate in the project send us data on people that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as data on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. We link these records to ACS data to estimate eligibility and participation in each of these programs by various demographic, socioeconomic, and household characteristics.  We send our estimates of eligibility and participation back to the states with the aim of providing data that can inform program administration. For example, if we find that a particular characteristic or geographic area is associated with high rates of eligibility for a particular program but low rates of participation, it may indicate the need for further outreach.

The team I work with recently developed a visualization displaying these estimates for a few states. The visualization allows users to examine WIC eligibility and participation rates among infants and children at the county level by various characteristics. We are currently developing a similar visualization for SNAP recipients, which will include both children and adults. This is an example of the estimates we can produce with blended data that provide the public with additional information.

Renuka Bhaskar is an OSU alumna and a senior researcher in the Center for Economic Studies at the U.S. Census Bureau. Any opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Making Sense of Census Data Resources

In my role as Ohio State’s Geospatial Information Librarian, a lot of the work that I do is related to helping researchers – at all levels and across a wide variety of disciplines – think through how they can locate, analyze, and visualize geographic data. And a lot of the time, data products provided by the U.S. Census Bureau will be relevant for addressing the research questions that they are asking.

When we hear the word “census” in 2020, our thoughts likely turn to the decennial census, and for good reason. It is hard to overstate the importance of the 2020 Census in terms of political representation and federal funding allocation, and the ways these will impact our communities over the next decade.

But it’s also important to note that census data products cover a lot more than the decennial census. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts more than 130 different surveys and programs, including the American Community Survey (ACS), Current Population Survey (CPS), Economic Census, and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program, to name a few.

More recently, the U.S. Census Bureau has also been releasing a variety of interesting experimental data products, which are described as “innovative statistical products created using new data sources or methodologies that benefit users in the absence of other relevant products.” Two that garnered some attention earlier this year and that have recently gone through a second phase are the Household Pulse Survey and Small Business Pulse Survey, which provide data about the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on American households and businesses, respectively.

As mentioned in an earlier post, data products from the U.S. Census Bureau are free and publicly available. Here are a few different ways you can access these data for research, teaching, or class assignments:

U.S. Census Bureau

A lot of census data products are directly accessible in, a new platform that replaced American FactFinder in early 2020. The platform features a new search interface aimed at making it easier for users to locate the data they need, with more datasets planned to be added over time. It’s also possible to browse and download data tables for various programs by topic and year. If you are unable to find the data you are looking for through either of those options, you can always go directly to the website for the specific program you are interested in to see what data access options are available (and see here for the list of all surveys and programs). TIGER data products are also publicly available for working with census data in a GIS. is the U.S. Census Bureau’s new platform for facilitating data access


IPUMS is a great resource for accessing a number of historical and contemporary census data products not readily available elsewhere. For example, NHGIS – the National Historical Geographic Information System – provides access to summary data tables and GIS-compatible boundary files from 1790 to the present and for all levels of U.S. census geography. For those working internationally, IPUMS also recently announced the launch of IHGIS – the International Historical Geographic Information System – with data tables and GIS-compatible boundary files from population, housing, and agricultural censuses from a number of countries, with more to be added over time.

Up to this point, all of the data resources I’ve been discussing have been more focused on providing summary data, presented in aggregate at different levels of U.S. census geography. But various IPUMS products also provide access to historical and contemporary census microdata, that is, individual records containing information collected about persons or households. IPUMS USA, for example, provides access to harmonized microdata from decennial censuses from 1850 to 2010 and American Community Surveys from 2000 to the present, though geographic information for these records is limited compared to summary data. IPUMS also recently announced the release of the Multigenerational Longitudinal Panel (MLP), which links individuals’ records between censuses spanning 1900-1940, with plans to extend back to 1850 in the future.

All IPUMS data products are free and publicly available, though there is a registration process required before gaining access to these data.

IPUMS provides access to various unique historical and contemporary census data products

Licensed Resources

In addition to the public data resources described above, the University Libraries licenses several resources that provide access to census data products in a fairly user-friendly way, especially for beginners. PolicyMap and Social Explorer are two examples, both of which include interactive map viewers that facilitate some geographic exploration of the data without the need to download and import data into a GIS every time. I have worked with instructors in various departments who have incorporated one of these databases into an assignment or recommended them as data sources for student projects. One other important note about Social Explorer is that it includes data tables for the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses normalized to the 2010 census geographies to facilitate longitudinal comparisons, with data available down to the tract level.

Social Explorer has a number of interactive map viewers for exploring census data variables

This list of census data resources is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it will be a good starting point for those looking to use census data products for research, teaching, or class assignments. Have fun exploring these resources, especially if you are new to census data or less familiar with some of the other surveys and programs conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. And if you are having trouble finding the data you need or have other questions, you can always contact a librarian.

Joshua Sadvari

Assistant Professor, Geospatial Information Librarian

University Libraries

The Ohio State University