Social Explorer is the easiest tool to use but other tools may be more appropriate in certain circumstances.
- What year do you need? American FactFinder has only the most recent years of its surveys; Social Explorer has all.
- What geography do you need? American FactFinder has all available geographies (except block groups for ACS data); block groups are available in Social Explorer and DataFerrett*
- Which variable(s) do you need? American FactFinder has all available variables; Social Explorer doesn’t have variables that involve some suppression.
- Are the pre-fabricated tables sufficient or do you need to create your own? Only DataFerrett* allows you to create your own.
- Do you need to download GIS-ready files (shapefiles)? Only National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) allows this.
- Do you need to make a map without using GIS? Social Explorer and American FactFinder both have this capability; American FactFinder is harder but has some variables (from current surveys!) that Social Explorer does not.
- Do you need microdata? Have to use public use microdata sample (PUMS) through DataFerrett* (only available geographies are public use microdata areas [PUMAs], super-PUMAs or higher levels of geography, e.g., states), or apply to use un-anonymized microdata through the Atlanta Census Research Data Center* (which is a long-term process—six months or more).
- What survey do you need? American FactFinder has most of the (current) Bureau surveys; Social Explorer has all of the decennial population surveys, 1790 to present; DataFerrett* has the Current Population Survey and a few other more “rare” surveys (SIPP, SAIPE, et al.), plus non-Bureau data like the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data; the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation; and much more
*If you need to use DataFerrett or the Atlanta Census Research Data Center, or need to map something in American FactFinder, contact the Social Science Data Reference Librarian