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Can one get data on Polish Americans from the census?
Using data from the 2000 Census, one can get breakdowns of the US population by race and ancestry. Polish would be considered an ancestry. Ancestry is a self-reported item so a person chooses whether or not to identify as Polish. Nonetheless, respondents reporting Polish ancestry should include those born in Poland and the native born with a Polish background.
The Census Bureau has a tool that allows the public to pull off tabular information about various populations. This tool is called American FactFinder:
To get race/ancestry-specific data, select Decennial/Get Data/Census2000 Summary File 4.
I would suggest that you start with the Population Profiles and/or Quick Tables. These are much easier to use than the Detailed Tables. Once you have selected the tables you are interested in, select the population of interest. The default is the "total population" but you can also select various race or ancestry groups. To give you an idea of what is available I have attached 4 population profiles for the "total" and "Polish" population in the United States.
The Census Bureau has a new product for 2010. The census long-form is being replaced by a rolling census called the American Community Survey (ACS). These data come out every year. To get data for Polish Americans select, "Selected Population Profiles" from the choices to the right of the data choice. You can define the Polish population by ancestry or by country of birth.
Another way to get Polish-specific information with the ACS or the census, is to use the microdata (and a statistical package). The best source to access the microdata files from the ACS is through the Minnesota Population Center via IPUMS-USA: