data sources

Below are links and short descriptions of useful state and federal sources of population estimates.  Some of these sources focus primarily on specific characteristic data rather than total population data.  Thus, the selection of which source to use should be guided by the subject matter of your interest. It is important, however, to use the same data source when you are comparing different areas of geography or time periods.  


Population Estimates Program
The U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimates program is the official source for annual population totals by age, race, Hispanic origin, and gender between decennial censuses.  The estimates are based on administrative records such as registered births and deaths, federal income tax returns, Medicare enrollees, and military movement.  Additional information is collected regarding group quarters population (e.g., dormitories, prisons).  Most administrative record data sources lag the current estimate year or vintage (by as much as two years), therefore, data are projected for the current year based on past years’ data.  As updated data become available, the projected input data are revised so that each vintage’s estimates are always based on the most recent data available.  The decennial census serves as the benchmark for the ensuing decade’s estimates. We use these data for many of the population graphs and tables in the demographic section because the data are available at the county level.  The population estimates are reported on an annual basis, thus they are useful for reporting trends over time.


Decennial Census
The main function of the U.S. decennial census is to provide counts of people for the purpose of Congressional apportionment and redistricting of state legislatures. The U.S. Census attempts to count every resident in the United States using a questionnaire survey.  It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years.  Prior to the 2010 Census, two questionnaires were used in the decennial census: the short form and the long form. The short form, administered to every household in the nation, has a few basic demographic questions regarding the name, age, and race of the respondent.  Respondents are also asked to describe their relationship status and housing tenure. In the long form, a more detailed set of questions focusing on social and economic characteristics were asked (e.g., educational attainment, employment, income and poverty, ancestry).  One in every six people was asked to fill out a long form, with the resulting data sample being used in a variety of ways.  The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), explained in the next section, has now replaced the long form of the decennial census.  Decennial Census data for 2000 and 2010 are accessible through American Factfinder, an online data dissemination tool.

American Community Survey (ACS)
- See Ask a Researcher feature for February 2013
The primary purpose of the American Community Survey (ACS) is to measure the changing social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population.  The ACS is a relatively new survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.  It uses a series of monthly samples to produce annually updated data for the same small areas (census tracts and block groups) formerly surveyed via the decennial census long-form sample.  Five years of samples are required to produce these small-area data.  The Census Bureau also produces 3-year and 1-year data products for larger geographic areas.  The ACS includes people living in both housing units (HUs) and group quarters (GQs). ACS data are accessible through American Factfinder, an online data dissemination tool.

Current Population Survey (CPS)

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a joint effort between the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.  It is designed to give annual, calendar-year, national estimates of income and official poverty numbers and rates.   The CPS provides a consistent historical income time series, beginning in 1946, at the national level, and can also be used to look at state-level trends and differences (through multi-year averages) going back to 1984.  The CPS is a monthly survey whose primary purpose is collection of income, labor force, and employment information on the U.S. civilian population. CPS data are accessible through Microdata Access, an online data analysis and extraction tool.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), part of the U.S. Department of Labor, is the principal federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy. Its mission is to collect, analyze, and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision-making.

Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE)

The Census Bureau's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) program produces estimates of health insurance coverage for states and all counties. In July 2005, SAHIE released the first nation-wide set of county level estimates on the number of people without health insurance coverage for all ages and those less than 18 years old. In July 2010, SAHIE began releasing estimates of health insurance coverage by age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, and income categories at the state level and by age, sex, and income categories at the county level. Estimates are produced based on models that incorporate data from a number of sources including Medicaid and SNAP records, federal tax return data, population estimates, and the American Community Survey (ACS). Estimates under this program are considered experimental.

Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)

The U.S. Census Bureau, with support from other Federal agencies, created the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program to provide more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than those from the most recent decennial census.  Estimates are produced for school districts, counties, and states. The main objective of this program is to provide updated estimates of income and poverty statistics for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions.  These estimates combine data from administrative records, postcensal population estimates, and the decennial census with direct estimates from the American Community Survey to provide consistent and reliable single-year estimates. These model-based single-year estimates are more reflective of current conditions than multi-year survey estimates.


Job Service of North Dakota, Labor Market Information
Job Service North Dakota provides current and historical data analysis on labor market information that complements current labor market information data sets.

North Dakota COMPASS
North Dakota Compass is a social indicators project that measures progress in North Dakota, its eight regions, 53 counties, four Native American reservations, and larger cities. Compass tracks trends in several topic areas including aging, children and youth, civic engagement, demographics, early childhood, economy, environment, health, housing, and workforce. It inspires people to take action to improve the state's economic vitality and quality of life.

North Dakota Department of Commerce, North Dakota Census Office

The North Dakota Census Office serves as the state's liaison to the US Census Bureau and is the state repository of census information.

North Dakota Department of Health, Division of Vital Records

Vital Records puts out annual publications including a summary of Vital Events, a C-Section report, a report on Induced Termination of Pregnancy, and Fast Facts.

North Dakota KIDS COUNT
North Dakota KIDS COUNT is part of KIDS COUNT, a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of children, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Their mission is to provide accurate, current data on child well-being in order to inform local and state discussions about how to secure better futures for all of North Dakota’s children. Data are organized around six components of child well-being: Demographics, Education, Economic Well-Being, Family and Community, Health, and Safety and Risky Behaviors.

Data Definitions

Estimates: Past and present population numbers.

Forecasts or projections: Numbers for the population in the future.

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

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