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SWRK 730: Community Mapping: Overview

How to create community maps using U.S. Census data.


Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau aims to count every resident in the United States and Puerto Rico, and makes that data available free of charge as the Decennial Census. Since the 2010 Census, socioeconomic and housing data is provided by the American Community Survey (ACS), which is available in yearly updates for some areas of the country.

This guide will help students in SWRK 730 understand and access both Census 2010 and ACS data for use with GIS, using Social Explorer.

Why Use Census Data?

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau is a rich source of information on communities.

  • Data files are freely available to the public.
  • It has the greatest geographic coverage at the greatest level of detail.
  • It has been regularly conducted since 1790.

Census 2010 vs. American Community Survey

Decennial Census (Census 2010)
  • 1790 onward
  • Every ten years
  • Aims to count everyone
  • Basic demographics and, until 2010, socioeconomic variables
American Community Survey
  • 2005 onward
  • 1-, 3-, or 5-year releases
  • Collected by sampling (margin of error)
  • Socioeconomic, housing, financial variables

Librarian & Coordinator of Social Sciences Collections

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Lauris Olson
University of Pennsylvania Libraries
203 Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
University of Pennsylvania
3420 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206