NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Boston Census Research Data Center

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Available Data and Proposal Process

RDC Proposal Frequently Asked Questions

A detailed listing of available data sets is provided at the CES data link . For firm data, public use versions of microdata have not been feasible for confidentiality reasons, which originally motivated the establishment of the RDC program. For person and household data, the microdata files' advantages over their public use counterparts include more detailed geography and non-topcoded continuous variables such as income.

Further information on the contents of the data sets listed can be found at the Census web page . Examples of work performed in the RDC system can be found at the CES Working Paper Series .Researchers have often found the survey questionnaire forms a useful guide for specifics on the contents of the data, which for older data were often included in an appendix of the Census published volumes (usually available in the government documents section of university libraries), and for newer data are usually on the web (see other links for some of them).

To perform research within the BRDC requires the development and approval of a proposal. Proposal Guidelines can be found at the Center for Economic Studies web page. Frequently Asked Questions have been collected to offer some helpful proposal information. It is important to contact the BRDC Administrator early on about your prospective project to help you navigate the process and answer your questions. Proposals may be submitted on a rolling basis to CES through the RDC Administrator via email, and are subsequently reviewed by both members of the academic community and government researchers before a final decision by the Census Bureau.

Generally speaking, a proposal to use an RDC is similar to an academic grant proposal, though there are a few Census unique aspects. First, because all research with this data is subject to the provisions of the U.S. legal code governing Census activities, the predominant purpose of the project must be to benefit the Census Bureau data programs. BRDC staff , as well as the Proposal Guidelines , can provide more information on this requirement. The other two unique elements that proposal reviewers will look for are feasibility (that the data can support the work proposed) and disclosure avoidance (that the form of the results generated by the project will sufficiently protect the confidentiality of individual survey respondents). Once approved, researchers become sworn agents of the Census Bureau and work within the BRDC secure facility. Results intended for circulation in working papers and publications are screened for disclosure of confidential information prior to release from the center.

Two points are of note. There are substantial financial costs involved in operating an RDC, and as a result there are project access fees for using the BRDC. Most researchers generally cover these with a grant. Second, the approval process can take a considerable amount of time, several months for regular proposals and considerably longer if review by other agencies or data owners is required, or if data availability issues exist that require sorting out.

We are proud of the fruits of over a decade of research results from work performed at the BRDC, and are grateful for your interest.

 
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