I'm in a introduction course for ArcGIS and I'm just starting to work on my project. I'm trying to create a map showing the relationship between poverty and education. I also want to try and present other correlations like race, healthcare, access to services, environment.

My question is regarding the FactFinder website for the Census Bureau. How do I get data for household income for each state? Should I use the FactFinder page? Are there other ways of obtaining this data?

3 Answers 3


American Fact Finder data (tabular) needs to be joined to TIGER data. The TIGER data delineates the boundaries you are working with, be it State, County, MCD, Census tracts, block groups, blocks, etc. Once you have the data joined through a common field you can start examining the relationships between the data.


The American Factfinder is going to be the most comprehensive source for downloading current US Census data. It's also going to include the identifiers that you need to join the attributes to the census geography by default; you can download the geography files from the Census TIGER shapefiles site.

To use the Factfinder, select the Advanced Search option. By default you get everything and the kitchen sink, so it's best to apply filters to narrow down your choices. Under Topics select Dataset and choose the one you're interested in. If you need basic demographic variables that represent counts, use the 2010 Census. If you need a wider range of socio-economic variables, then choose the latest estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS). With state-level data you can get away with using the 1-year estimates. For geographies that have smaller populations use a longer period estimate - i.e. if you were working with census tracts the 5-year numbers are all that's available. If you needed data for every county (both urban and rural), you'd also use 5-year numbers so that you can capture every county. The estimates have a 90% confidence level and each value has a margin of error associated with it.

Once you've filtered by dataset, filter again by geography. Use the Name tab to select all states within the US, then filter down by more geography if needed. Once you have the dataset and geography narrowed down, then you can either use more filters to drill down by topic, or you can start keyword searching. When you go to download the data as a CSV, make sure to choose the option to include annotations in separate files, so that footnotes won't get mixed into your data. Once you download the CSV, always import it into whatever package you're using (spreadsheet, stats package etc) and declare the GEOID columns as text; some IDs will have leading zeros that would be dropped if they were saved as numbers (which renders them useless).

For details I have a tutorial I created here. The PDF file in the American Factfinder box at the top-left.

Once you have the attributes from the Factfinder, you can download the appropriate TIGER shapefile and join the data to it. The TIGER files represent legal or statistical areas that include both land and water; the census also produces generalized cartographic layers that have large bodies of coastal water removed. They also have some ready-to-go geodatabases that come with boundaries and census data all wrapped together.

  • Your tutorial is out of date. factfinder2.census.gov redirects to factfinder.census.gov which doesn't look like you describe. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 2:34
  • The link is outdated, and I will update it. However - it redirects to the right place. The AFF interface is *exactly" the same as it was when I wrote the tutorial, and is as I described.
    – fdonnelly
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 13:52
  • After you select advanced search your instructions work. This is just a case of things getting moved. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 19:25

I have been using NHGIS in my teaching as an alternative to Factfinder. It has a data finder that lets you filter for years and topics and select the appropriate shapefiles (more information here). The unique identifier to join shapefiles with tables is GISJOIN and instructions are here. Registration is free.

  • This is so much more intuitive than the data.census.gov!!!
    – thayer
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 23:21

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