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Taxes, Spending, Job Answers Made Easy by New Census Tool

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Are you interested in how much your state is spending on college education or parks and recreation? Have you ever wondered if your state or local governments are putting more funds into public safety and health care compared to last year?  How does your state compare to other states? Where would you go to find this financial information?

State and local governments are responding to a growing demand for transparency by posting more government data online. That information, however, has been primarily accessible to the public who have a strong background in internet research and accounting — until now.

The tool helps inform the public about how state and local governments are collecting and spending government dollars.

The Public Sector area within the Economic Directorate at the U.S. Census Bureau has created a tool that can improve usability and access for all.

“Our primary goal was to make state and local government data accessible and easy to understand while making the data compact and simple to share as a web link or on social media,” said Melinda Caskey, a survey statistician who helped create the interactive tool below. “In addition, it is fun and user-friendly, which is a huge bonus.”

The State & Local Government Snapshot is the most comprehensive and compact view of government data ever created by the Census Bureau. The visualization combines data from the Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances and the Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll.

The data are useful in the civic lives of Americans who want to evaluate the decisions made by our elected representatives. The tool helps inform the public about how state and local governments are collecting and spending government dollars.

“People are naturally interested in their own home and community,” Caskey said. “With our tool, individuals can examine an aggregate of local governments, state government, or combine the data for the most complete picture.”

Exploring revenues, expenditures and employment at the local level and comparing them to the state level reveal how the two levels of government work together. The tool also allows users to see how government spending, revenues and employment change over time. They can explore trends and see the impact various legislative and policy decisions have on their communities. The users can also evaluate how a policy could impact them before it is enacted.

“Our tool also allows people to compare their state to other states,” Caskey said. “Exploring the differences and similarities between geographies and asking questions about why they exist is fun. It invites us to investigate how different ways of operating a government can lead to various outcomes.”

Furthermore, the tool can help identify the impact of policies adopted by other governments.

For those who want to dig deeper into the specific variables collected at the Census Bureau and how they combine to form the categories in the tool, they are included at the bottom of the tool. This allows you to filter and focus on the variables you are most interested in.

“Knowing more about our state and local government stewardship makes us better decision makers, and that knowledge leads to improved accountability and good governance,” Caskey said.

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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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