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Michigan State University

SOC 375: Urban Sociology: US Data

Spring 2014


PolicyMap is an online data and mapping application that gives access to over 15,000 indicators related to housing, crime, mortgages, health, jobs, demographics and education. Data are available at all common geographies (address, block group, census tract, zip code, county, city, state, MSA) as well as unique geographies like school districts and political boundaries. Data come from both public and proprietary sources. Many of the public files are available for download. Through PolicyMap, you can access all data in interactive maps, tables, charts, reports and through a unique analytic tool. You may also upload your own address level data and share your data and interactive maps with others.

US Census Bureau

US Census Data

  • QuickFacts
    Basic demographic profiles
  • American FactFinder
    Database provides more options to access statistical tables from the decennial Census and the American Community Survey.  Use the guided search option.

Decennial Census vs. American Community Survey

Decennial Census (also known as the Census of Population and Housing)

  • Conducted every 10 years beginning in 1790.
  • Starting with 2010, only provides the most basic population information.

American Community Survey (ACS)

  • Replaces the long form (sample questionnaire) of the decennial census from 2010.
  • Collects statistics on detailed demographic and socio-economic characteristics.
  • Statistics are available for some geographic areas from the ACS beginnning in 2001.
  • Areas are surveyed over multiple years, so you will see multi-year estimates. Only the largest areas have 1-year estimates; for small areas you must use the 5-year estimates.


MSU Libraries subscribes to a service called SimplyMap which, despite its name, provides more than maps.  It maps a huge array of population datasets including the Census of Population and also demographic data from market research firms.  

Video: A short introduction to making a map in Simplymap

The data underlying the map can also be exported in table format.  The maps can be exported in shapefile format with chosen attribute data.

For general information on accessing and using Simplymap, see this SimplyMap Guide

Social Explorer

Social Explorer is a website to which MSU patrons have access.  It provides census data from 1790 to the present.  The library has purchased access made available to currently enrolled students and active faculty & staff.  No password is necessary, except for off-campus use you'll be prompted for your MSU NetID and password. 

Video: Making a basic map in Social Explorer

Video: Making a basic table in Social Explorer

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