Statistical Abstract and Print Mashups in a Digital Age

October 13, 2011


Since 1878, the Statistical Abstract of the United States has been printed by the Government Printing Office on behalf of the Census Bureau.

The “Stat Abstract” is considered “the authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States,” and compiles data from multiple sources, including: the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and many other Federal agencies and private organizations. Each year, new tables and analyses are added to keep up with the issues and interests of the day.

As Jim Cameron mentioned in his February post about the 2011 edition,

“Family debt, manufacturing, national security, international statistics – there doesn’t seem to be anything that the Statistical Abstract doesn’t cover. At more than 1,000 pages, it’s an America watcher’s dream.”

This important publication has fulfilled a unique niche for over a century for students, educators, researchers and librarians throughout the country as the definitive source of US statistics. As one librarian put it, “The print edition is THE most used reference book in my collection.”

Why is having all this information in a single, compiled, cited, and referenced edition important to its users? Michael Fry, Senior Map Librarian for the National Geographic Society Library and Archives says:

“[W]hile the Census Bureau may be correct that the data is “available elsewhere,” the beauty of the Stat Abstract is that it obviated users’ need to know where “elsewhere” was. And that, as librarians know, can be (at least) half the battle.”

After fifteen years in the Internet industry, I am highly aware of how important it is to your intended audience to be able to quickly and easily find the information they are looking for, and how difficult this search task is made for the users by most web sites.

This has led to an entire field of search engine optimization also called SEO. Unfortunately, all the SEO in the world can’t overcome the amount of time and effort necessary to find all the content and data you need if it is scattered across many web pages and web sites.

In a world where time is money and convenience is king, the time savings in both finding the necessary data and knowing immediately the official source that produced that data are key benefits of a book like the Statistical Abstract. In a sense, this book is the ultimate printed “mashup” that blends data from multiple sources into a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Who would have thought that a 134 year-old publication tradition would have such relevance in a digital age?  Unfortunately, compiling all this data and obtaining publication rights is increasingly expensive,  as many experts and a lot of effort are needed to pull together a work of this complexity. Thus, this may be the last year in its compiled format, since in its Fiscal Year 2012 budget submission to Congress, the Census Bureau requested “a decrease to terminate the Statistical Abstract program.

So, you may want to get what may be the last print edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States at the US Government Bookstore in paperback or hardcover or find it in a library. Or you can see the tables online here.

Some interesting facts from the 2012 edition:

  • Increase in US Population: Between April 1, 2000 and April 1, 2010 there was a 9.7 percent increase in the resident population of the United States. The state with the highest percentage increase in resident population during the same time period was Nevada (35.1), while the only state that experienced a decrease was Michigan (-0.6). (Table 14)
  • Retail profits up: For retail trade corporations with assets of 50 billion dollars or more, net profit increased from 54.0 billion in 2008 to 84.1 billion in 2009. Profits per dollar of sales before taxes also increased from 2.6 cents per dollar of sales in 2008 up to 4.1 cents per dollar of sales in 2009. (Table 1052)
  • 80% has Internet access: In 2010, approximately 20 percent of households did not use the Internet…[, and] 80 percent of households had an Internet connection anywhere (at home or mobile etc). (Table 1155)


About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for marketing the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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