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Party like it's 1940? Census readies data dump

  • Data reflects American life in Great Depression era
  • Cool statistics being tweeted leading up to April 2 release
Party like it's 1940? Census readies data dump

And you thought things were bad in 2008, when the banks threatened bailout or bust.

The U.S. Census wants to give you some perspective. On April 2, the National Archives and Records Administration will release the 1940 census for the first time, offering the most complete record yet of life in an America just out of the throes of the Great Depression.

The digitalized data will be a boon for history buffs and those who want to see how their forebears coped with some world-changing events, including the beginning of Hitler's march through Europe, the last years of Prohibition and maybe -- just maybe -- the fuss over Hollywood vixen Rita Hayworth.

Historians, genealogists and researchers hope to uncover long-held secrets about: The dispersion of refugees from Europe in the late 1930s;  the path of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II; and the migration of blacks from the rural South to manufacturing meccas in northern and midwestern U.S. cities.

“One of the major innovations of the 1940 census was the use of advanced statistical techniques, including probability sampling, which had been used only on an experimental basis before," says a statement on the census website. "Sampling had been tested in a trial census of unemployment carried out by the Civil Works Administration in 1933-1934 and surveys of retail stores in the same decade, and an official sample survey of unemployment in 1937 that covered about 20,000 households.”

In the run-up to the data dump, the census has launched an interactive 1940 census page and on its official Twitter account has been tweeting all kinds of cool stats from the era, like: "According to the 1940 Census, the median annual wage for women 14 & older was $592," it said Monday.

Embedded in the reams of numbers and statistics, the data will once and for all show in great detail what Roosevelt-era Americans had to deal with and possibly settle the debate of whether today’s economic conditions truly warrant comparisons to the Depression era.

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