Demographic and statistical information is often helpful to understand the context of a time and place, the influences and impacts that relate to a research project, or that form the basis of the project itself.
This information has been collected by a variety of government and non-governmental agencies according to their particular needs. This can make searching for relevant data tricky or daunting to start. This guide will help you confirm the type of statistical information you are seeking and give ideas on where to look.
What kind of data are you looking for?
Statistical data questions can be as straightforward as basic demographics (how many or what percentage of Denverites in 1945 identified as Black?). They can also stretch to include multiple facets (how many elementary-school children in Westwood in 2010 spoke Spanish in the home?). Sources like Statistical Abstracts or Pew Research Center can be useful for data about the entire United States, but often don’t provide the specificity needed when looking at Denver or Colorado specifically.
It helps to know what the intricacies of your question are and their levels of importance when you start looking, as every facet can add new specificity and complexity to your search. Data is sometimes described as “rich,” which typically means that more questions were asked, allowing for more facets to analyze. If your question is complex, you’ll need richer data to answer it.
Another important question will be what year or years of data you are looking for. Typically, online sources will be much more useful for recent data (going back to about 2000), while more historical data will require more sleuthing. Regardless, the richest data is typically going to come in the form of tables or visualizations and you will want to verify and judge the source of the data (i.e. Census, LARASA, unidentified third party).
Some basics about the big surveys and censuses
The United States Decennial Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. Census records are confidential for 72 years to protect privacy, but non-specific statistical data (such as demographic information) is available much faster than that.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is another demographic survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Unlike the Decennial Census, the ACS is done through sampling (about 3.5 million addresses) instead of counting one-to-one and is conducted every year. The ACS asks different questions to explore topics such as education, employment, homeownership, and access to the internet and transportation.
Beyond these larger surveys conducted by the Census Bureau, there are countless surveys conducted at the local level by state or local governments, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies. These may be less rigorous than those conducted by larger organizations, but may also access more obscure or specific information that you need. Some major players in Denver are the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA), and City and County of Denver agencies.
General Tools and Tools that Cover Many Topics
Explore Census Data - covers the years 2000-2021 and compiles major Census Agency surveys such as American Community Survey, Decennial Census, and Economic Census. Data is in both map visualizations and tables that are downloadable. Explore Census Data is “the new platform to access demographic and economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau [whose vision] is to improve the customer experience by making data available from one centralized place so that data users spend less time searching for data and content, and more time using it.”
Census Tables - tables from the Census Bureau and other national surveys. Includes data going back to 1890, though the richest data is more recent.
Colorado Department of Education quick guide to Colorado State Government Statistical Information - Colorado Department of Education collection of sources for statistical information. An ideal starting place for data from state agencies, organized by topic. Includes sources for crime and courts, natural resources, and traffic and transportation.
Kids Count - children-focused data resources from the state, county, and other levels, run by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Covers childhood-related topics in the areas of economics, education, health, family and community, race and ethnicity, safety, and more.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRASER or FRED) - FRASER began as a data preservation and accessibility project of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2004 and now provides access to data and policy documents from the Federal Reserve System and many other institutions. You can search the catalog or browse/limit by subject (which includes location), title, author, or date
Formally Published Statistics in Print
Colorado Yearbook - Initially compiled to promote the state to prospective residents, it includes “detailed information regarding the state, its resources, opportunities and attractions, compiled from official and semi-official sources” on natural resources, recreation, commerce, and social services. Published from 1918 to 1964. Some year books are available online through the Colorado State Publications Library.
Reports by local government and non-government agencies are available throughout our catalog, though may be tricky to find if you do not know the title you are looking for. Some good questions to ask yourself are
- What is your most important statistic or dividing factor? Catalog records won’t have every specific statistical analysis listed but will give you a sense of overarching themes. This could be children, Hispanics, or the Denver population.
- Who would have researched this topic? It could be a local government agency (such as the department of transportation or city planning), DRCOG, LARASA, the Census, or ACS.
- What year or years are you looking for? Especially with printed materials, these will usually be printed shortly after the census or data sample is taken, and usually in 5 or 10-year increments. Data for 1970 may not match 1985 and something to that effect will always be in the catalog record (either in the title or the publication date).