Census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county or equivalent entity.
Overview -- Scroll section
Census tracts are defined by the Census Bureau and are
reviewed and updated by local statistical program participants prior to each decennial census. The primary purpose of census tracts is to provide a stable set of geographic units for the presentation of decennial census data.
Census tracts generally have a population size between 1,200 and 8,000 people with an optimum size of 4,000 people. The geographic size of census tracts varies widely depending on the density of settlement. Census tracts are delineated with the intention of being maintained over a long time so that statistical comparisons can be made from census to census.
Census tract boundaries generally follow visible and identifiable features. They may follow legal boundaries such as minor civil division (MCD) or incorporated place boundaries in some states and situations to allow for census tract-to-governmental unit relationships where the governmental boundaries tend to remain unchanged between censuses. State and county boundaries always are census tract boundaries in the standard census geographic hierarchy.
In a few rare instances, a census tract may consist of discontiguous areas. These discontiguous areas may occur where the census tracts are coextensive with all or parts of legal entities that are themselves discontiguous.
Census Tract Codes and Numbers—Census tract numbers have up to a 4-digit basic number and may have an optional 2-digit suffix; for example, 1457.02. The census tract numbers (used as names) eliminate any leading zeroes and append a suffix only if required. The 6-character numeric census tract codes, however, include leading zeroes and have an implied decimal point for the suffix. Census tract codes range from 000100 to 998999 and are unique within a county or equivalent area. The Census Bureau assigned a census tract code of 9900 to represent census tracts delineated to cover large bodies of water.
Suffixes are used to help identify census tract changes for comparison purposes. Local participants have an opportunity to review the existing census tracts before each census. If local participants split a census tract, the split parts usually retain the basic number, but receive different suffixes. In a few counties, local participants request major changes to, and renumbering of, the census tracts. Changes to individual census tract boundaries usually do not result in census tract numbering changes.
Relationship to Other Geographic Entities—Within the standard census geographic hierarchy, census tracts never cross state or county boundaries, but may cross the boundaries of county subdivisions, places, urban areas, voting districts, congressional districts, and American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian areas.
Census Tract Numbers and Codes
0001 to 9899—Basic number range for census tracts
9900—Basic number for census tracts in water areas
9901 to 9989—Basic number range for census tracts