Eliza Albert
Sr. Product Strategy Manager

Making Sense of Census 2020 Data

Last year, we released a podcast called Census 2020 – What’s Next? While we were able to answer a lot of questions the industry had about topics like differential privacy, what power the average American has to shape future Census questionnaires, and how investing in a data partnership that leverages Census data can help you make strategic business decisions, we ended the conversation with a few more questions of our own that we’ve finally been able to answer. Now, we can say we’re making sense of Census 2020 data.

Data Releases

A question we get quite often from our own clients is “when can we expect to see census data incorporated into Claritas products?” It’s a great question that should be asked of any data provider you’re working with for demographic insights. The Census Bureau is still processing data, meaning everything is not yet available to data providers, so any company you are evaluating that tells you otherwise should be challenged on that claim. Certain delays have made it difficult to provide accurate answers for some data products, but what has become available are the following:

– Apportionment counts, which represent total resident population by state and are used to apportion – or divide – the 435 memberships/seats in the House of Representatives.
– P.L. 94-171 Redistricting Summary data, which was the first release from the 2020 Census for small geographic areas and includes information for base counts, such as total population, households, and housing units. It also has key population characteristics like race, ethnicity, and population in group quarters by the type of facility. This information is used by states to inform legislative redistricting.

Where To Find 2020 Census Data

Some data providers will repackage and resell Census data as it’s released. If you’re looking for simple counts, this may fit your needs, but you can also go to to find those answers – at no additional charge. When you’re looking for Census data you can make actionable business decisions with, you come to a provider like Claritas.

Inconsistencies in the Data?

As part of our demographers’ review of the published PL-94 results, we have found logical inconsistencies and improbable values in the data for some areas, due to the Census Bureau’s use of their new differential privacy method. For example, if the average household size listed by the Census for a particular geography is fifty people, we’d consider that to be highly unlikely and we would need to do significant work to understand why these inconsistencies and improbabilities occur and decide if we should adapt our methodology or make changes to the data to correct for them. That way, when we produce for businesses that rely on us for the best quality demographic data, we can ensure that those products are as accurate as possible.

While it would be easier to just reproduce what the Census reports for a certain geography, it would ultimately be to the detriment of our clients and be counterproductive to our goal. Although these inconsistencies are limited to a small percentage of block groups, we think that making changes to make the counts more realistic are an important improvement to the data. That said, Claritas fully supports the Census Bureau’s efforts to ensure the published data are accurate and do not violate the privacy protection of respondents. We will keep up-to-date on related announcements by attending meetings and being in contact with Census Bureau officials and other prominent researchers in the field.

Data Changes and Data Losses

The SF1 (Summary File 1) data released with the 2010 Census have now been replaced by the Demographic and Housing Characteristics (DHC) file for the 2020 Census. SF1 contained additional summarized data from the 2010 Census questionnaire, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, tenure, number of people in a household, and presence of children, but a final roster for the DHC replacement has not been published at this time and the Census Bureau has not announced a release date.

In addition to changes to the 2020 Census release schedule, the Census Bureau has also announced changes to the release of 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) data. As with the delays to the 2020 Census files, these changes are also related to collection issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no 1-year data released for the 2020 ACS. Instead, the Census Bureau plans to release a limited number of tables using experimental data, which Claritas will not be using. Instead, we will focus on the 2016-2020 5-year data that was recently released.

When Will Claritas Make Census Data Available?

Despite some of the ups and downs of the data availability and timelines for releases, we are happy to say that, for the 2023 update, Claritas is trying to stay as close to our usual release schedule as possible while incorporating 2020 Census data into our update. One of the many reasons our clients choose us for their business needs is because we provide them the benefit of having early access to data for planning purposes, meaning we always try to release our main demographic data update in the summer, before each respective vintage year begins.

Our methodology supplements data from the Census Bureau with other sources, including internal data, data from other government agencies, the United States Postal Service, and private organizations. An accurate decennial census count also helps the accuracy of our estimates, and we support and appreciate all efforts the Census Bureau has taken and continues to take to ensure accuracy and reliability as well as data privacy.

One of the most important features of the Claritas demographic program is the use of our internal Claritas Master Address File, which is our file of all addresses in the United States, flagged with residential status. We update this file every year with information from various sources and geocode each record. Then, we summarize these data to the Census block-level, which helps us supplement data from other sources like the ACS, to ensure more accuracy between Census updates.

We will continue to update you as more news comes from the U.S. Census Bureau in the upcoming months through additional blogs and another podcast episode, but we want to know what other questions you have for us! Contact us here with any additional questions you may have about Census 2020.

Are you ready to know more?