You know that you are a nerd when… you come home and find yourself seriously psyched to have been selected to be part of the American Community Survey (and not even the “you must complete this by law” statement dampened my enthusiasm). If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing with the federal statistics, which I highly recommend, the ACS asks about citizenship, language, housing, employment, income, education, military service, and one tiny question about food stamps (SNAP). It’s a lovely survey, printed in green, and mostly not obtuse. I particularly enjoyed being able to mark that I bicycled to work last week. Such a pleasure, as it’s rarely an option. The officially projected 38 minutes flew by; in fact, I would estimate that it took me just over 10 minutes to complete and check it.

It’s titillating data for anyone who ever wants to know anything about people, housing, or employment. Very useful information if you want to find out about a certain neighborhood or needs for services in any given area. On the surface, you might ask why a nutritionist cares about sort of bland demographics. Income is closely tied to nutritional problems, and knowing information about housing like whether households have a refrigerator or range/stove is very useful when you are considering programming. Similarly, identifying what areas have high rates of SNAP use yields information about where services are needed. Race and ethnicity, to some extent, can help identify when WIC offices or other social services need to offer more flexible aka culturally appropriate options. Even more importantly, language spoken at home may reflect the need for materials and fluency in non-English languages among staff. Seeing how age demographics shift can help flag growing or declining needs for services for elders (community meals) or even incoming schoolchildren (school breakfast and lunch). While you can argue that simply being in a neighborhood will also yield that information, previously unnoticed trends can be identified. Projections for budgets and staff are more readily accepted when supported by numbers. Yes, even though statistics can be manipulated to highlight almost anything, they remain very useful.

And, hey, don’t you just want to find out what the value of homes and ages of folks in a certain zip code/county/state are? The public has free access to it here. My plug: fill out your surveys, please.

P.S. I will post recipes again. Promise.

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