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American Community Survey Overview. Jerry Wong Information Services Specialist Los Angeles Regional Office U.S. Census Bureau. 1/10. What is the American Community Survey?. A large, continuous survey that: is sent to 3 million resident addresses per year

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American Community Survey


Jerry Wong

Information Services Specialist

Los Angeles Regional Office

U.S. Census Bureau


what is the american community survey
What is the American Community Survey?

A large, continuous survey that:

  • is sent to 3 million resident addresses per year
  • produces characteristics of population and housing
  • produces estimates for small areas and small population groups
  • Produces characteristics, not a population count
  • Key component of the decennial census program
history and timeline of the acs
History and Timeline of the ACS

Congress renewed interest in an alternative to the once-a-decade census

First operational test conducted in 4 sites

N=866,000 housing units in 1,239 counties

First 1-yr estimates released for areas 65,000+

Continuous measurement conceptualized

N=165,000 housing units











Work began on what evolved into the ACS

Test sites expanded yearly to 36 counties in 26 states

Group Quarters added

N=3,000,000 housing units in all counties in 50 states, DC & PR

First 3-yr estimates released for areas 20,000+

developing the acs
Developing the ACS

The ACS was developed to:

  • Focus the Census on improving the population count
  • Provide characteristic data more than once every 10 years to frame policy issues
  • Allow use of current data to respond to new trends
decennial census
Decennial Census

Census 2000 used 2 forms

  • “short” form – asked for basic demographic and housing information, such as age, sex, race, how many people lived in the housing unit, and if the housing unit was owned or rented by the resident
  • “long” form – collected the same information as the short form but also collected more in-depth information such as income, education, and language spoken at home

Only a small portion of the population, called a sample, received the long form.

census 2000 and acs similarities
Census 2000 and ACSSimilarities
  • Many questions similar
  • Many of the same basic statistics are released
  • Comparisons can be made for most population and housing subjects
  • 5-year estimates will be produced for same broad set of geographic areas
    • including census tracts and block groups, zip code tabulation areas
census 2000 and acs key differences
Census 2000 and ACSKey Differences

ACS data now available for larger and mid-sized areas

ACS data for small geographic areas and population groups will be produced every year starting in 2010

ACS data describe a period of time and published data are based on 12 months, 36 months, or 60 months

census 2000 and acs data quality
Census 2000 and ACSData Quality
  • Goal of the ACS: Produce data of comparable quality to Census 2000 long form
  • ACS 5-year data
    • Sampling error is larger in ACS due to smaller sample size
    • Non-sampling error is smaller due to:
      • Lower rate of nonresponse
      • Higher item response rates
      • Permanent interviewing staff using automated data collection
social characteristics
Social Characteristics


Marital Status


Grandparent Caregivers




  • Place of Birth
  • Citizenship
  • Year of Entry
  • Language Spoken at Home
  • Ancestry/Tribal
  • Affiliation



e conomic characteristics
Economic Characteristics



Employment Status



Commuting to Work

Place of Work



housing characteristics
Housing Characteristics

Tenure (own vs. rent)

Occupancy & Structure

Housing Value

Taxes & Insurance


Mortgage/Monthly Rent



demographic characteristics
Demographic Characteristics




Hispanic Origin



recent content changes
Recent Content Changes
  • New Content


      • Health Insurance Coverage
      • Veteran’s Service-connected Disability
      • Marital History


      • Field of Undergraduate Degree
  • Wording and format changes in 2008 to match Census 2010 questions
2008 content changes
2008 Content Changes

Three new questions

Health Insurance Coverage

Veteran’s Service-connected Disability

Marital History

Deletion of one question

Time and main reason for staying at the address

Changes in some wording and format



acs sample design
ACS Sample Design
  • Sample is accumulated over TIME to produce lowest levels of geographic detail to replace census sample
  • 5 years of data are required for areas and population groups with less than 20,000 population
  • Sample cases selected from an updated Master Address File (MAF)
  • Questionnaires mailed to about 1 in 480 addresses each month throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • 1 in 40 addresses per year (2.5% of the population).
  • Average of 500-600 addresses per month per congressional district.
  • Total of 3 million addresses each year, or 250,000 per month.
  • Inclusion of population in group quarters beginning in 2006.
target population
Target Population
  • Resident population of the United States and Puerto Rico
  • Living in housing units and group quarters (group quarters added in 2006)
  • Current residents at the selected address

Sample includes about 3 million addresses each year

Three modes of data collection



personal visit

Data are collected continuously throughout the year



period estimates
Period Estimates

Describe the average characteristics over a specific period of time

Contrast with point-in-time estimates

Do not describe the characteristics on a specific date

Period is 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years for ACS

geographic boundaries
Geographic Boundaries
  • Multiyear estimates are based on geographic boundaries as of January 1 of the last year in the multiyear period

Example: 2006-2008 ACS estimates use

boundaries as of Jan 1, 2008

  • Boundaries of other statistical areas will be updated every decade in conjunction with the decennial census
  • 2010 Census boundaries will be used for data released in 2011
acs data release schedule
ACS Data Release Schedule

Hypothetical situation: If Census 2010 contained a long form, detailed characteristic data would not be available until 2012

acs data products
ACS Data Products


  • Data Profiles
  • Narrative Profiles
  • Comparison Profiles
  • Selected Population Profiles


  • Detailed Tables and Collapsed Tables
  • Subject Tables
  • Ranking Tables
  • Geographic Comparison Tables

Thematic Maps

Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) Files

using the data factors to consider
Using the Data:Factors to Consider
  • Universe and residence rules
  • Time Periods
  • Reference Periods
residence rules
Residence Rules
  • The American Community Survey uses a
  • “two-month” rule
  • Decennial census based upon the concept of
  • “usual residence”
residence rules1
Residence Rules
  • Resident of a housing unit if a person:

- Lives there year round

- Lives there more than 2 months but not year round

- Is living there now with no other place to live

- Is away now for 2 months or less

  • Not a resident of a housing unit if a
  • person:

- Lives there 2 months or less with another


- Is away now for more than 2 months

period estimates1
Period Estimates
  • Describes the characteristics of an area
  • over a specific period of time
  • Contrasts with point-in-time estimates
    • that describe the characteristics of an
    • area on a specific date
  • 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year estimates are released for geographic areas that meet specific population thresholds
reference periods
Reference Periods

ACS uses the interview date as the

single reference point, or as the end of

a reference period, for all data collection.

questions with no specific reference period
Questions With No Specific Reference Period
  • Most ACS questions
  • do not stipulate a
  • period of time that
  • should be referenced
  • Interpretation is yearly
  • average since the
  • data are collected
  • each month and
  • averaged across months
questions with a specific reference period relative to interview date
Questions With a Specific Reference Period Relative to Interview Date
  • Other questions specify a period of time relative to

the date of interview

  • Interpretation is still a
  • yearly average but

covering a slightly

different period of time

than the calendar year

group quarters
Group Quarters
  • Place where people live or stay that is normally

owned or managed by an entity or organization

providing housing or services for the residents.

Two types of group quarters:

1. Institutional

2. Non-institutional

  • Group Quarters Population includes all people not
  • living in households.

-This term includes those people residing in group

quarters as of the date the ACS was conducted.

overview of acs timeline
Overview of ACS Timeline
  • First year of data collection for full sample in 2005.
  • Data for calendar year 2007 released beginning in August 2008.
  • Annual data for geographic areas over 65,000 population.
  • 3 year averages are now available for geographic areas 20,000 to 65,000.
  • 5 year averages for geographic areas under 20,000 in 2010.
  • ACS Data single year collection (e.g. 2007) is closed out just after the beginning of a calendar year (e.g. 2008)
  • Single-year and multiyear data products start to become available in the summer of the same year.
  • For example 2007 ACS estimates were released in 2008
  • The cycle repeats EVERY year
  • ACS data are estimates
  • ACS data are not counts of the population or housing
  • Population counts are produced from the decennial census

-Counts are updated throughout the decade through the Population Estimates Program

margin of error moe
Margin of Error (MOE)
  • Margin of Error Definition:

A measure of the precision of an estimate at a given level of confidence (90%, 95%, 99%)

    • MOEs at the 90% confidence level for all published ACS estimates
  • Confidence Interval Definition:

A range that is expected to contain the population value of the characteristic with a known probability.

interpreting margin of error
Interpreting Margin of Error
  • Indicates that a data user can be 90 percent certain that the estimate and the population value differ by no more than the value of the MOE
  • MOE can help data users assess the reliability of an estimate
  • MOE can help data users avoid misinterpreting small differences between estimates as significant
constructing multiyear estimates
Constructing Multiyear Estimates
  • Data are pooled across 36 or 60 months
  • Data are weighted to produce estimates
  • Estimates are controlled for age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin
  • Multiyear estimates are not an average of 1-year estimates
use multiyear estimates when
Use Multiyear Estimates When …
  • No 1-year estimate is available
  • Margins of error for 1-year estimates are larger than required
  • Analyzing data for small population groups
inflation adjustment
Inflation Adjustment
  • Dollar-valued data items are inflation adjusted to the most recent year for the period
  • Income, rent, home value, and energy costs
  • Adjusted using inflation factors based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  • Adjustment designed to put the data into dollars with equal purchasing power
geographic boundaries1
Geographic Boundaries
  • Multiyear estimates are based on geographic boundaries as of January 1 of the last year in the multiyear period
  • Boundary Annexation Survey collects boundary changes
  • Boundaries of other statistical areas will be updated every decade in conjunction with the decennial census
population controls
Population Controls
  • Estimates of housing units and people are controlled to the population estimates derived from the Population Estimates Program
  • Multiyear estimates are controlled to the average of the individual year’s estimates for the period
using multiyear estimates to make comparisons comparing across geographies
Using multiyear Estimates to Make Comparisons? Comparing Across Geographies
  • Only compare the same type of estimate
      • 1-year estimates to other 1-year estimates
      • 3-year estimates to other 3-year estimates
      • 5-year estimates to other 5-year estimates
  • Same time period
comparing across time periods
Comparing Across Time Periods

Same geographic area

  • Use caution if geographic boundaries have changed over time
  • Easier to compare non-overlapping periods
  • Make comparisons using the same length time period
american community survey learning more
American Community Survey Learning More

ACS Main Page

2008 Data Release Page

2006-2008 Data Product Details

Guidance on Comparing 2008 ACS 1-Year Data

Guidance on Comparing 2006-2008 ACS 3-Year Data to Other Sources

Geographic Overview

User Notes

Errata Sheets

Design and Methodology Report

The ACS Compass Products

american community survey 2008 data release
American Community Survey 2008 Data Release

american community survey 2006 2008 data product details
American Community Survey 2006-2008 Data Product Details

american community survey geography overview
American Community Survey Geography Overview

american community survey comparing 2008 acs 1 year data
American Community Survey Comparing 2008 ACS 1-Year Data
american community survey comparing 2006 2008 acs 3 year
American Community Survey Comparing 2006-2008 ACS 3-Year
american community survey user notes
American Community Survey User Notes

american community survey errata
American Community Survey Errata

american community survey subject definitions
American Community Survey Subject Definitions

american community survey using multiyear estimates
American Community Survey Using Multiyear Estimates

american community survey question by question fact sheet
American Community Survey Question by Question Fact Sheet

american community survey design and methodology report
American Community Survey Design and Methodology Report

Important reference document covering methods used in producing ACS data

Available at

the acs compass products a compass for understanding and using american community survey data
General Data Users


High School Teachers


Federal Agencies



State and Local Governments

Puerto Rico Community Survey (PRCS)


Rural Areas

American Indian and Alaska Native Populations


Puerto Rico Community Survey (PRCS) – in Spanish

The ACS Compass ProductsA Compass for Understanding and Using American Community Survey Data

the acs compass products a compass for understanding and using american community survey data1
The ACS Compass ProductsA Compass for Understanding and Using American Community Survey Data
  • Fully scripted PowerPoint presentations

– An Overview of the ACS

– Things that May Affect the Estimates

– Understanding Multiyear Estimates

– Data Products

– Geographic Areas and Concepts

– Introduction to the PUMS files

  • E-learning ACS Tutorial (forthcoming)
for more information
For more information

Subscribe to “ACS Alert”

Visit the ACS/PRCS website:

Contact by telephone:


Contact by email:

resources need assistance
Resources: Need Assistance?

U.S. Census Bureau

Partnership & Data Services Program

15350 Sherman Way, Suite 400

Van Nuys, CA 91406

(888) 806-6389 Toll Free

L.A. Regional Website: