US Census Bureau Releases First-Ever Public API

Janet Wagner, Data Journalist / Full Stack Developer
Jul. 26 2012, 06:50PM EDT

The US Census Bureau has released its first-ever API to the public. The new US Census Bureau API allows "developers to design Web and mobile apps to explore or learn more about America's changing population and economy," according to the announcement.

The new Census API provides data from two sets of popular statistics:

  • 2010 Census (Summary File 1) - This includes detailed statistics on population such as age, sex, race and household relationship.
  • 2006-2010 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) - This includes detailed statistics on a rich assortment of topics including education, income, employment, occupation and much more.

As noted by the U.S. Census Bureau: The API does not include any information that could identify an individual; such information is kept strictly confidential by law. The API only uses statistics that the Census Bureau has already released publicly and in aggregate form.

Developers can access the Census API data through a stateless HTTP GET request and responses are returned in JSON format. In order to access the data, a key must be inserted into the request URL. Developers can request a key by submitting a key request form.

Census Bureau Interactive Map
Screenshot of the U.S Census Interactive Population Map - View live at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/popmap/

The U.S. Census Bureau has also launched a Developer Forum and an App Gallery where developers can provide feedback on the API, submit questions and share apps that have been created using the Census API. There are currently two applications featured in the App Gallery:

  • Age Finder - This Census Bureau app uses the API to allow users to retrieve age statistics from SF1 for defined and custom age ranges.
  • Poverty Map - This app from the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics uses the API to map poverty statistics from the American Community Survey.

With the release of the U.S. Census Bureau's first-ever public API and other upcoming communication improvements, the U.S. Census Bureau is striving to meet the goals of the President's digital strategy of making information more transparent and customer-centered.

Previously the bureau had announced its foray into APIs, which we said makes giant data dumps optional. The Census is one of nearly 300 government APIs.

Janet Wagner Janet is a data journalist and full stack developer based in Toledo, Ohio. Her focus revolves around APIs, open data, data visualization and data-driven journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @webcodepro and on Google+

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