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Resources for obtaining statistical data
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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This is a guide to major sources of national, state, local, foreign, and international statistical data available at the University of North Texas Libraries and on the Internet. Includes links to major statistical agencies at all levels of government and to major statistical indexes.

On this page are listed some of the most frequently used sources of statistics. If you don't find what you need here, check the sources listed in the other tabs in this guide.

  • U.S. Federal Statistics: Where to Start
    Over 100 federal agencies collect statistics on various topics. These are a few of the most popular sources of statistical data on the United States.
  • State and Local Statistics: Where to Start
    In addition to the many U.S. sources that provide statistics that provide data at the state level or lower, there are state and local agencies and private institutions that collect statistics. These are some of the most popular sources of state and local statistical data.
  • Foreign and International Statistics: Where to Start
    The most popular compendia of statistics on foreign countries and regions.
  • Standard Classifications
    In order to make statistics consistent and comparable with each other, several standard classifications have been developed.
  • Potential Pitfalls
    Some issues you should be aware of when searching for and using statistical data.

U.S. Federal Statistics: Where to Start

The U.S. government collects more statistics than any other entity in the world. Federal government agencies need this information in order to meet legal mandates and so that they can plan and evaluate various programs. Others—including state and local government agencies, academic researchers, and commercial entities—have found the U.S. federal government to be one of the most reliable and consistent sources of accurate, comparable data.

Unlike some countries, the United States does not have a central agency responsible for collecting statistics. Over 100 federal agencies are authorized to collect and publish numerical data on various topics. Faced with this overwhelming array of choices, you may find it difficult to know just where to look first. These are some of the most popular compilations of statistics from various agencies.

State and Local Statistics: Where to Start

Most of the sources listed above under U.S. Government Agencies provide statistics on individual states, counties, and at least the major metropolitan areas. Don’t forget to check the U.S. sources even if you are looking for information at a level of geographic detail more specific than the entire U.S.

Many times data are collected by state, county, or municipal government agencies, or by regional consortia such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Sometimes lower level government agencies submit the data they have collected to higher state or federal agencies. Sometimes the lower agencies obtain their data from the higher agencies.

If you are looking for data at a certain geographic level, you can try contacting an agency at that level of government to see if they have the data you need. For instance, go to a county government Web site to find county level data. If you are looking for information on a specific topic such as education, try to contact the agencies responsible for that area at all levels of government. Many times agencies will post collected data on their Web sites, but sometimes they may have information available that has not been published.

  • Statistical Abstract of the United States
    This vast compendium is the standard summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States. It can be used as a one-stop source of the most frequently requested statistics and as a guide to further research. Data included in this publication are taken from federal, state, local, and foreign governmental agencies; private sources; and unpublished data. Sources are listed at the end of each table, so you can often update your information by going to a pertinent Web site.

    As of October 1, 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau has terminated the collection of data for the Statistical Abstract of the United States and its supplemental products, the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book and the County and City Data Book.
  • Data Planet
  • Proquest Statistical Abstract of the United States 2013

Foreign and International Statistics: Where to Start

  • The World Factbook
    Country-by-country listing from the CIA of basic facts and statistics on geography, people, government, economy, transportation, communications, and defense. Be aware that the date of the information varies widely and in some cases may be several years older than the issue date.
  • Statistical Yearbook
    Annual compilation from the UN of a wide range of international economic, social and environmental statistics on over 200 countries and areas, compiled from sources including UN agencies and other international, national and specialized organizations.
  • World Development Indicators
    The primary World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially-recognized international sources. It presents the most current and accurate global development data available, and includes national, regional and global estimates. Data include social, economic, financial, natural resources, and environmental indicators. Data selection screens are intuitive and easy to use. Results can be scaled, charted, and mapped. Data export options in standard formats such as Excel.
  • NationMaster
    Over 400 statistical data sets sorted by category and by popularity of the topic. Users can create their own graphs to compare nations. Also includes national profiles, (mainly taken from the CIA World Factbook), including statistics for each country, a picture of the national flag, and an outline map of the country.
  • Data Planet
  • Proquest Statistical Abstract of the United States 2013

Standard Classifications

In order to make statistics consistent and comparable to each other, several standard classifications have been developed.

For a detailed explanation of what statistical classifications and standards are, and how they are developed and maintained, see the report Standard Statistical Classifications: Basic Principles from the U.N. Statistical Commission.

  • Statistical Programs and Standards
    Compilation by the White House Office of Management and Budget of guidelines and standards for the collection of statistical information by federal agencies.
  • North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)
    The standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. NAICS was developed under the auspices of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and adopted in 1997 to replace the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. It was developed jointly by the U.S. Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC), Statistics Canada, and Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía to allow for a high level of comparability in business statistics among the North American countries.
  • North American Product Classification System (NAPCS)
    In recognition that a production-based industry classification system does not meet all of the varying needs of business data users, in 1999 OMB proposed an initiative to develop a comprehensive classification system for the products produced by North American Industry Classification System industries. Like NAICS, this initiative is a joint effort by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The long term objective of the North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) is to develop a market-oriented/demand-based system for products that is not industry-of-origin based; can be linked to the NAICS industry structure; is consistent across the three NAICS countries; and promotes improvements in the identification and classification of products across international classification systems, such as the Central Product Classification system of the United Nations. Newly developed NAPCS product definitions are scheduled to be tested in the 2012 Economic Census.
  • Standard Industry Classification (SIC)
    This standard—used from the mid-1930s to 1997, when it was replaced by the NAICS—uses a system of four-digit numbers to classify industries. It is still used by a few agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and knowledge of the SIC system may be necessary when using older census publications.
  • Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas
    Metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas (metro and micro areas) are geographic entities defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for use by Federal statistical agencies in collecting, tabulating, and publishing Federal statistics. The term "Core Based Statistical Area" (CBSA) is a collective term for both metro and micro areas. A metro area contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population, and a micro area contains an urban core of at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000) population. Each metro or micro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core. This page includes current and historical definitions and OMB standards for defining and delineating metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas.
  • OMB Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity
    These are the standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Development of these data standards stemmed in large measure from new responsibilities to enforce civil rights laws. Data were needed to monitor equal access in housing, education, employment, and other areas, for populations that historically had experienced discrimination and differential treatment because of their race or ethnicity. The categories represent a social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based.
  • Standard Occupational Classification (SOC)
    Used by Federal statistical agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data.
  • UN Classifications Registry
    The Classifications registry keeps updated information on Statistical Classifications maintained by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD).

Potential Pitfalls

These are several issues you should be aware of when you are looking for and using statistical data.

Statistical tables may be difficult to interpret

Be sure to read any explanatory material accompanying your table, such as a preface, footnotes, or a glossary. This will clarify details such as how certain terms have been defined for the purposes of the study, whether a number is a percentage or a quantity, how the data was collected, and how the data compares to similar data collected at a different time or from a different source.

There may not be published statistics for the exact variables you are seeking

Perhaps no one has collected the data. Perhaps the data are not available at the level of specificity you need, or the raw data have not been analyzed and published in the format you need. Sometimes by directly contacting an agency that collects data on your subject, you can obtain unpublished data customized to your specific needs.

The most recent data on a given topic may be several years old

Some data are only collected once every five to ten years. In some cases, data on a particular topic may have been collected only once, for a special project, and may have never been updated once the project was completed. Once data have been collected, it may take a long time for it to be compiled, analyzed, and published. Online sources tend to be updated in a timelier manner than paper sources, so if you are using a paper source, be sure to check whether there is an online version.

Some statistics may not be available for free

Sometimes private organizations collect information and make it available only upon payment of a fee. This is especially likely to be true in the case of marketing and financial data, but may also be true in the case of some data that is useful for social programs.

Statistics are primarily abstract, numerical data

For privacy reasons, personal information is usually not made public. The U.S. Census is forbidden by law to make available any identifying information about the persons or companies it surveys until a certain number of years have passed. You may be able to obtain information on specific companies and public figures when this is needed to ensure their accountability. For example, publicly traded companies are required to file financial information with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and publicly elected officials are required to file information with the Federal Election Commission.


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