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Senior Writer . Great Stories You Can Do with the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. D’Vera Cohn. McCormick SRI: Going Deep with Census Demographic and Economic Data. 0:00. The 2010 Census counts people; the American Community Survey tells you their characteristics. 0:54.

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Great Stories You Can Do with the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey

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  • Senior Writer

Great Stories You Can Do with the Census Bureau’sAmerican Community Survey

D’Vera Cohn

McCormick SRI:

Going Deep with Census Demographic and Economic Data


The 2010 Census counts people; the American Community Survey tells you their characteristics


The 2010 Census Form: 10 Questions


American Community Survey = 69 questions


American Community Survey Topics

  • Education levels and school enrollment

  • Country of birth, citizenship, language spoken at home

  • Births, marriages and divorces; marital status (single, widowed, etc.)

  • People who moved in the past year--where from and where to

  • People with disabilities

  • Health insurance coverage

  • Military service (and service-connected disability)

  • Employment and unemployment

  • Commuting (getting to work)

  • Income, from various sources

  • Housing type

  • Housing value

  • Housing costs


American Community Survey Basics

  • Yearly survey sample of 2 million addresses (households)

  • Estimates released each fall for the previous calendar year

  • Data from 2006 onward includes the full population – people in homes and in “group quarters” institutions

  • Single year of data for areas of 65,000 population or more – latest release is for 2009

  • Three years of data rolled together for areas of 20,000 population or more-latest release for 2007-2009

  • Five years of data rolled together for areas of less than 20,000-latest release for 2005-2009


Data Available At Many Geographic Levels


ACS Questions about Place of Birth, Immigration, School, Residence One Year Ago


Stories about Immigration, School, Residence One Year Ago, State of Birth

  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Many Leaving Georgia Behind

  • Used the 2005-2009 ACS to identify the census tract with the state’s largest foreign-born population, and interviewed immigrants there (June 5, 2011)

  • The Salt Lake Tribune: Recession Slows Migration to Utah

  • In 2009, 8,069 more people moved into Utah from other states than moved out, according to the ACS, but during better times, that figure was 30,000+ (May 23, 2011)

  • Memphis Commercial Appeal: City’s Center Attracts; Downtown Lures Young, Educated

  • Used ACS data to focus on one growing downtown census tract where more than 80% of adults hold college degrees (April 17, 2011)

  • Boston Globe: The Town of Tenacious Roots

  • Used ACS data to identify towns with large shares of Massachusetts-born residents (March 15, 2011)


Disability, Marriage and Divorce, Birth, Grandparents, Military Service


StoriesAbout Marriage, Grandparents

  • New York Times: Black And White And Married in the Deep South

  • Mississippi has had the fastest growth in mixed marriages, though the total is still small, according to a study of ACS data

  • (March 20, 2011)

  • Charlotte Observer: Nonprofit Group Helps Those Who Are Raising Grandchildren

  • More than 6,000 grandparents were raising grandchildren in Mecklenburg, according to the 2007-2009 ACS

  • (May 15, 2011)


Employment, Unemployment, Commuting to Work


Stories About Commuting

  • Atlanta Journal Constitution: Commuters Can Have A Better Time Here

  • Used ACS commuting-time statistics to muse about long commutes

  • (June 2, 2011)

  • Cincinnati Enquirer: Cheap Car Pool Parking Lures Only One Car

  • Only 10% of local commuters get to work via carpool, according to the ACS (May 10, 2011)

  • Philadelphia Daily News: Bike Commuter Numbers A Bit Inflated

  • Used ACS commuter data to question claim of record demand for bike lanes (May 2, 2011)


Type of Job, Income from Various Sources (wages, interest, pension, welfare, etc.)


Stories About Type of Job

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Public Workers Are Election Wild Card

  • About 18% of Wisconsin adults live in a public-employee household, according to a study based on ACS data. (March 28, 2011)

  • The News-Messenger (Fremont, OH): Manufacturing Still Rules Sandusky County Economy

  • ACS statistics on employment in the manufacturing sector (Jan. 10, 2011)

  • Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN): Career Paths Follow Available Jobs

  • Used 2005-2009 ACS data to show recession-related employment trends (Jan. 9, 2011)


Type of Housing, How Many Rooms, Plumbing, How Many Vehicles Owned


Rent, Taxes, Fuel Bills, Food Stamps, Value of Property


Mortgage Amount, Second Mortgage


Housing Stories Using ACS Data

  • Denver Business Journal: Colorado Cities Boast Supersized Homes

  • Homes in several Colorado cities surpass the U.S. median for number of rooms (June 1, 2011)

  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Lake Worth Takes Pride In Its Deep Roots

  • Most homes built before 1969 and owner-occupied, according to ACS data (April 21, 2011)

  • Providence Journal Bulletin: Pockets of Economic Distress

  • ACS data indicate that Central Falls homeowners spend a median 39.3% of their income on mortgages, a sign of economic distress (Jan. 30, 2011)



Census Bureau’s American FactFinder – Gateway to Census Data


Data Profile - Arizona


Subject Tables Assemble Data from Several Questions about One Topic


Detailed Tables: Data from a Fire Hose


Thematic Map


Other Ways to Get American Community Survey Data

  • State Data Centers: Partner with the Census Bureau. Supposed to be experts in Census data about their state. Missouri State Data Center especially good; they have extracted and published data for other states.

  • Think tanks: Among them, Brookings Institution (metropolitan data); Migration Policy Institute (immigration data); Pew Research Center (Hispanics and overall social trends)

  • Minnesota Population Center:; makes microdata available for download.


Ranking Table: Note the Margin of Error on the Right Column


You Can’t Say Maryland is Wealthier than New Jersey


For Small Populations in Small Places, Watch the Margin of Error


Additional Resources to Learn about the American Community Survey

  • Census Bureau website:

  • User handbooks, including one for the media, and training demos

  • American Community Survey page has documentation, questionnaires, FAQs

  • American FactFinder has a glossary

  • Population Reference Bureau (

  • CQ Press Guide to the American Community Survey

  • Investigative Reporters and Editors Census page (


Thank you!

  • D’Vera Cohn

  • Senior Writer

  • Pew Research Center

  • 1615 L St. NW, Suite 700

  • Washington, DC 20036


  • All Things Census:



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