U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 Statistical Abstract – Looking at America’s Data

Posted to Data Sources  |  Nathan Yau

The U.S. Census Bureau released their 2008 Statistical Abstract, the National Data Book, not too long ago (um, like in January). There are state rankings and data in 30 categories and many more sub-categories. All this data is in the form of PDFs and Excel spreadsheets, which doesn’t lend much to readability, but still, it’s nice to have access to all the information.

Maybe FlowingData readers can put together a giant statistical abstract all conveyed through graphics. That would be cool. Above are six data sets that I picked from the billion or so available.


  • I’m going to noodle in the data when I have a chance, One comment: the Postal Rates chart should be a step chart.

  • I loaded one of the sheets (Patents and Trademarks.XLS) into Excel, enriched it with MicroCharts, added a detail chart and published it to the Web.

    Maybe somebody gets inspired, downloads MicroCharts and creates a nice U.S. Census Bureau dashboard for our Excel Dashboard Competition?

    Andreas Lipphardt

  • I think that the choice of a line graph is well-justified with the postal rates. Your concern might be that the line graph denotes a continuous value between two intervals, whereas the jump was discrete.

    A step-chart is essentially a bar graph, i.e it is a line that denotes how the bars would’ve been, and we know that graphs such as those are ill-suited for trends over time. On the other hand, the line graph make it extremely clear what the trend over time has been.

  • demaws –

    You don’t have a problem with a line showing a trend that doesn’t exist? The sloping line segments do not indicate the true price anywhere except at their endpoints. The trend in between is false. Draw a step chart and you’ll see the trend, and the steps in the chart help illustrate the discontinuous nature of the changes.

    A step chart is not essentially a bar chart. The durations along the time axis are preserved (not the case in most bar charts, and when this is preserved it makes the bar chart less legible).

  • Jon, You’re correct in saying that my comparison between a bar chart and a step chart might be flawed. I did mean preserving durations along the time axis, but I understand how it can make the chart clunky.

    My point with using the line chart is that, it makes it much more easy to discern the overall trend than a step chart. The graph above seems to say that Postal Service Rates have been on an increase from 1995 to 2006, with stamps and postcards almost coordinated in their increase. Compare that to a step chart, especially if drawn like this http://www.swiftchart.com/line_ex9.png, can make it very hard to perceive the overall trend.

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  • Never mind, the comma at the end isn’t part of the URL.

    Take the squares off the Pressure series to neaten up your example chart. It’s not difficult to understand. The example seems to show settings applied to machinery over time. A non-step line chart would be as inappropriate here as in the postal rates display.

    It may be informative to add an XY chart showing P vs T, connect points in sequence with lines, and add data labels showing the months.

  • I was going to save this for later since I’ve already posted a blog entry this morning, but I’m not the patient type.


  • What program was used to generate the above graphs?

  • @Donovan: all of the graphs were done in adobe illustrator


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