December 3, 2008

Now where do you think he got this information?

The Loudoun Times reported on a study of the economic impact the Dulles Corridor has on the area. The study was done by GMU econ prof Stephen Fuller.

So where do you think he got all this great information?

My money is on the US Bureau of Census.

The American Community Survey of the bureau can provide loads of great information almost down to the street level.

Let's just look at the Fairfax County Educational Attainment table from the ACS.

Right from the beginning you can see that 59% of all Fairfax County residents in 2007 had at least a bachelor's degree from college. You can quickly compare that the the national figure of 27% for people 25 years and older. Or the state number of 33.6% for the same age group.

And I did all that in less than 2 minutes.

And with an additional 30 seconds I found that the percentage of 25 year olds and up who have at least a bachelor's degree in Prince William County is 37.4 percent. The Arlington County rate is 67.7 percent.

Two minutes more and I got the following income information
Median Income
  • National: $50,740
  • Virginia: $59,562
  • Arlington County: $94,876
  • Fairfax County: $105,241
  • Prince William County: $87, 243
Mean Income
  • National: $69, 193
  • Virginia: $79,711
  • Arlington County: $121,568
  • Fairfax County: $131,107
  • Prince William County: $101,032
(And if you need to know the difference between "median" and "mean," look it up yourself.)

I have long held that one of the least understood but most accessible sources for information for journalists to add perspective to a story is the Census Bureau. Journalism professors should be calling in experts from the bureau at least once a term to teach students how to mine the depths of the bureau's databases. (I did this for each of my classes. And the lesson stuck with a small percentage of the students but these were the ones who always went the extra mile to do their stories right.)

The ACS tables at the Census Bureau are easy to use and manipulate. Try them yourself and you will see how much background information is readily available to help provide context to stories.

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