Meet the Joneses

by JT McGee

The US Census spends millions of dollars (and creates a boatload of temporary jobs!) to collect very valuable geographic data.

There are millions of uses – marketers love it – but there are some cool tools you can integrate into your finance “life,” too.

Meet the Joneses

Perhaps the best way to use the Census is as a comparison tool. If you’re not getting ahead, you’re falling behind, right? Since we all try to keep up with the Joneses, or so says conventional wisdom, perhaps we can learn more about our local Joneses to see how we compare.

Here are three ways to meet the Joneses:

  • Census quick facts is a really cool tool that will let you drill down to your city. Once you’ve selected a state and city, you can find some very interesting (and somewhat obscure) data. For instance, I learned that 80% of people in my city live in the same place for at least 1 year. Or that the median household income is somewhere around $37,000. Rust belt, baby! There’s even data on the amount of manufacturing shipments, and retail sales in your city.
  • Census Easy Facts lets you find some quick data by county. Everything from financial (family income, income by household age, per capital income, etc.) as well as information on education and housing (even more detail on how frequently people move and from where!)
  • Census Tract really lets you drill down to your neighborhood (the average has about 4000 people). This data is particularly important to mortgage lenders, so there’s plenty of information about housing, median home age, how many units are owner vs. renter occupied, etc. It’s kind of interesting, though the website unfortunately doesn’t break data into pretty little pie graphs – but that’s what Excel is for, anyway.

Finally, I had to include the really sweet visualizations, which aren’t financial related, but fun indeed. My favorite one is this one on income islands, which basically reveals that the highest income people in the US live in…Washington, D.C., of course. Government…

PRIZM – Bonus!

So this is isn’t related to the Census, but it does have to do with statistics. From the marketing company Nielson is PRIZM, which is why so many stores ask for your zip code. PRIZM is a pretty sweet tool, which, unlike the Census, offers local data (by zip code) in easily digestible graphs.

On the side of each zip code-specific pages are what I call Nielson’s “stereotypes” or portraits of the kinds of people Nielson says live in the area you do.

I clicked one type, Suburban Pioneers, to find that people who live near me might just:

  • Shop at Lane Bryant
  • Buy action figures
  • Read Fit Pregnancy
  • Watch Ellen DeGeneres Show
  • Dodge Nitro

A Dodge Nitro?

Anyway, next time you’re hungry for data, take a peek at some of the links above. They’re a great way to waste time while feeling like you learned something about the world around you.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

American Debt Project June 27, 2013 at 10:07

Sounds like you need to move away from the people who live near you.


JT June 27, 2013 at 10:19

The midwest is full of very interesting creatures. At least they’re nice, I guess.


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