The 2010 US Census Population By Zip Code (Totally Free)

US Population By Zipcode / ZCTA
Population by ZIP code / ZCTA from US Census 2010. Why was this so freaking hard to find?

I’m going to kick off a multi-part series on US Census data by offering a totally free download, in XLS or CSV format, of something strangely hard-to-Google: the 2010 US Census population by Zip code (technically, by ZCTA). Splitwise is offering these files free of charge and in the public domain, and I can’t believe how many other sites are charging for them!

But the difficulty I had in creating this data set and using the US Census website has inspired me to write a bit more about how to use one of the world’s most interesting open data sources.

The US Census data sets are incredibly valuable, despite their origin as a matter of mere political bookkeeping. Ancient astronomers watched the movements of the sky for the practical task of navigating ships, without knowing that Kepler and then Newton would use their recordings to discover the laws of gravity. In a similar way, while the US Census was created to turn the crank of representative democracy, its beautiful data sets have surely been the basis for countless demographic, civic, and business insights unforseen by the Census itself.

The US Census is both “big data” and “big science” – $13B for the 2010 Census (~$42 per capita), and the Census Bureau’s annual budget in 2012 was $1B. For comparison, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the world’s biggest Physics experiment, had a budget of $9B, and an annual operating cost of $1.1B in 2012.

Considering just the decennial census, and not any of the supplementary work, the summary tables alone contain 73,028 census tracts (not even the smallest geographic region in use) and 8940 different query variables, many as arcane as “P0410001, Concept P41: Grandchildren under 18 years living with grandparent householder.” Using US Census data can be very intimidating indeed, and my sense is that Census Bureau themselves, faced with a Herculean task, has only a limited understanding of what summary data products would be most useful to publish.

Luckily for normal people who don’t enjoy hunting through messy Excel with strange jargon, the US Census has at long last released a simple, lightweight, JSON API for pulling data out of these arcane databases. This makes using the data much, much more straightforward. (All that you have to do is untangle the jargon-filled API documentation.)

In a series of posts to follow, I will document my journey through the US Census data as a newcomer, and share the tools I used to make the data so much easier to work with. The posts will assume that you are “a normal data analyst or consultant,” by which I mean you are good at Excel and/or Google Docs, but don’t know much anything APIs and might not even know what an API is.

P.S. An FAQ on why the hell Splitwise is doing this

Q: Wait, what? I thought you made that bill-splitting app that my roommates and I use?
A: Well, yeah, but we’re also working on a new set of fairness calculators and needed to do some background research. And also, we’re just nerding out.

Published by

Jon Bittner

Splitwise helps you and your friends keep track of shared expenses, so that bills (and friends) get paid on time.

52 thoughts on “The 2010 US Census Population By Zip Code (Totally Free)”

      1. I am just now coming across this blog as I was searching for this type of Zip Code information… but I am not seeing where I can download the excel file????????

    1. My pleasure @Darrell. Sorry for not noticing these comments for a while 🙂 I’m grateful to others in the community for showing me how to use the API, not least of all the National Civic Day Of Hacking

  1. Hi Jon – do you know how to pull out 2010 demographic information by zip code without pulling hair out of my own or other person’s heads?

    1. @E – Sort of, yes. Some hair pulling is still kind of involved, but I am going to upload the Excel file to make it easier to replicate my queries for any particular variable you want to get at. Let me go post my second post this week…

    1. Well, only sort of easy. You are motivating me to get around to my next post!

      The “quickest” was is only semi quick, but it’s so much better than hunting around the Census website that I feel obliged to write about it. Since you asked, I’ll try to use your population density and unemployment as examples – they are fairly common I’m sure yet not even super straight-forward, as both population density and unemployment both seem to only be found as derived quantities.

      The method requires you to download another spreadsheet, lookup a variable or two and a series of commands, and then do a little math. Hold on tight! I’ll post a comment here and update this post when it’s ready.

  2. This post is awesome, you’re the best. Gonna remember that API – finding data on government websites make me cry. On a somewhat related note, I just started using Excellent Analytics to pull GA data to excel and it changed my life.

    1. Cool, that sounds useful (sorry for the slow reply!). I keep meaning to post my full Census-puller excel sheet but documenting it is taking a lot of time, so I may just release it as a web-app instead.

  3. Been searching for this since the last four hours… census website is extremely confusing…
    Thank you so much!

    Is it possible to find the demographic data (gender, age, ethnicity etc) ?

  4. Thanks for any other informative website. Where else
    coul I get thqt type of innformation written in such an ideal means?

    I’ve a challenge that I am just now running on, and I’ve been at the glance out
    for such information.

  5. Hi guys,
    did you figure out how to get the population demographic by zip code? I got it by county but It’s not that precise for my project.
    Thanks,
    J

  6. Hello! Thank you for building the csv. I have a few questions regarding the data: I have found 103 entries of zip code where it matches multiple populations, such as zip code ‘02861’, ‘03579’ and so on. Can you please explain the difference between the two population value? Thank you again!

  7. Thanks for the database! Would you explain what your methodology was gaining this insight?
    I am asking since Census mentions they have not provided any correlation between Zip Codes and ZCTAs. I tried to figure out a way by correlating ZCTA-County-Zip Code, but it is not going to work.

    Best,

  8. two questions – how do you use Splitwise to get the census data and is there a place to find the 2000 data by zip code – working on a project where I need to compare 2000 to 2010

  9. Almost 4 years later and this post is still helping people! Tried to figure out the census site for what I thought would be an easy ask. Glad I found this site!

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