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The American Community Survey (ACS) is a demographics survey program conducted by the
U.S. Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American people and economy. The Census Bureau is part of th ...
. It regularly gathers information previously contained only in the long form of the decennial census, such as ancestry, citizenship, educational attainment, income, language proficiency, migration,
disability A disability is any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or effectively interact with the world around them (socially or materially). These conditions, or impairments, may be Cognitive disability, cogn ...
, employment, and housing characteristics. These data are used by many
public-sector The public sector (also called the state sector) is the part of the economy composed of both public services and public enterprises. Public sectors include public goods and governmental services such as the military, law enforcement, infrastructu ...
, private-sector, and not-for-profit stakeholders to allocate funding, track shifting demographics, plan for emergencies, and learn about local communities. Sent to approximately 295,000 addresses monthly (or 3.5 million per year), it is the largest household survey that the Census Bureau administers. The American Community Survey gathers information annually in the 50
U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with the . Due to this shared sovereignty, are both of t ...
s, the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
, and
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico (; abbreviated PR; tnq, Boriken, ''Borinquen''), officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico ( es, link=yes, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, lit=Free Associated State of Puerto Rico) is a Caribbean island and Unincorporated ...

Puerto Rico
— however it does not gather information in four major
U.S. territories The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all ...
(
American Samoa #REDIRECT American Samoa American Samoa ( sm, Amerika Sāmoa, ; also ' or ') is an unincorporated territory of the United States Under United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) ...

American Samoa
,
Guam Guam (; ch, Guåhan ) is an in the subregion of the western . It is the and territory of the United States (reckoned from the ); in , it is the largest and southernmost of the and the largest island in Micronesia. Guam's capital is , and t ...

Guam
, the
Northern Mariana Islands The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI; ch, Sankattan Siha Na Islas Mariånas; cal, Commonwealth Téél Falúw kka Efáng llól Marianas), is an unincorporated territories of the Unit ...

Northern Mariana Islands
, and the
U.S. Virgin Islands The United States Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands of the United States,Also called the ''American Virgin Islands'' are a group of Caribbean islands and an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States The U ...

U.S. Virgin Islands
).http://www3.drcog.org/documents/archive/ACS_Basics.pdf U.S. Census Bureau. An Overview Of the American Community Survey. Page 5. Retrieved August 30, 2019.


History

The United States Constitution (Article I, Section II) requires an enumeration of the population every ten years and "in such Manner as they ongressshall by Law direct." From the first census in 1790, legislators understood that the census should collect basic demographic information beyond the number of people in the household. James Madison first proposed including questions in the census to "enable them to adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community." Such knowledge collected with each census, he said, "would give them an opportunity of marking the progress of the society." The number and type of questions included in censuses since 1790 have reflected current American societal trends and the growing nation's expanded data needs. By 1940, advancements in statistical methods enabled the Census Bureau to start asking a sample of the population a subset of additional detailed questions without unduly increasing cost or respondent burden. In subsequent decades, questions that had previously been asked of all respondents, as well as new questions, moved to the subsample questionnaire form. As that form grew longer than the census form sent to most households, it became known as the census "long form." Following the 1960 Census, federal, state and local government officials, as well as those working in the private sector, began demanding more timely long-form-type data. Lawmakers representing rural districts claimed they were at a data disadvantage, unable to self-fund additional surveys of their populations. Congress explored the creation of a mid-decade census, holding hearings and even authorizing a mid-decade census in 1976, but not funding it. Efforts to obtain data on a more frequent basis began again after the 1990 Census, when it became clear that the more burdensome long form was depressing overall census response rates and jeopardizing the accuracy of the count. At Congress's request, the Census Bureau developed and tested a new design to obtain long-form data. U.S. statistician
Leslie Kish Leslie Kish (born László Kiss, July 27, 1910 – October 7, 2000) was a Hungarian- American statistician A statistician is a person who works with theoretical or applied statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collecti ...
had introduced the concept of a rolling sample (or continuous measurement) design in 1981. This design featured ongoing, monthly data collection aggregated on a yearly basis, enabling annual data releases. By combining multiple years of this data, the Census Bureau could release "period" estimates to produce estimates for smaller areas. After a decade of testing, it launched as the American Community Survey in 2005, replacing the once-a-decade census long form.


Implementation

The ACS has an initial sample of approximately 3.5 million housing unit addresses and group quarters in the United States. The Census Bureau selects a random sample of addresses to be included in the ACS. Each address has about a 1-in-480 chance of being selected in a given month, and no address should be selected more than once every five years. Data is collected by internet, mail, telephone interviews and in-person interviews. Approximately one third of those who do not respond to the survey by mail or telephone are randomly selected for in-person interviews. About 95 percent of households across all response modes ultimately respond. Like the decennial census, ACS responses are
confidential Confidentiality involves a set of rules or a promise usually executed through Non-disclosure agreement, confidentiality agreements that limits access or places restrictions on certain types of information. Legal confidentiality Lawyers are o ...
. Every employee at the Census Bureau takes an oath of nondisclosure and is sworn for life to not disclose identifying information. Violations can result in a 5-year prison sentence and/or $250,000 fine. Under , census responses are "immune from legal process" and may not "be admitted as evidence or used for any purpose in any action, suit, or other judicial or administrative proceeding."


Data availability

The Census Bureau aggregates individual ACS responses (i.e. microdata) into estimates at many geographic summary levels. Among these summary levels are legal and administrative entities such as
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
,
counties A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
,
cities A city is a large human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can range from a small number of dwellings grouped to ...
, and
congressional districts Congressional districts, also known as electoral districts, legislative districts, wards and electorates in other nations, are divisions of a larger administrative region that represent the population of a region in the larger congressional body. N ...
, as well as statistical entities such as
metropolitan statistical area #REDIRECT Metropolitan statistical area #REDIRECT Metropolitan statistical area#REDIRECT Metropolitan statistical area In the United States, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is a geographical region with a relatively high population density a ...
s,
tracts Tract may refer to: Geography and Real estate * Tract housing, Housing tract, an area of land that is subdivided into smaller individual lots * Land lot or tract, a section of land * Census tract, a geographic region defined for the purpose of taki ...
, block groups, and
census designated place A census-designated place (CDP) is a concentration of population defined by the United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the Federal Statistical System ...
s. Estimates for
census blockA census block is the smallest geographic unit used by the United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the Federal Statistical System of the United States, U.S ...
s are not available from ACS.
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico (; abbreviated PR; tnq, Boriken, ''Borinquen''), officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico ( es, link=yes, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, lit=Free Associated State of Puerto Rico) is a Caribbean island and Unincorporated ...

Puerto Rico
is the only U.S. territory that is part of the ACS program. In order to balance geographic resolution, temporal frequency, statistical significance, and respondent privacy, ACS estimates released each year are aggregated from responses received in the previous calendar year or previous five calendar years. The Census Bureau provides guidance for data users about which data set to use when analyzing different population and geography sizes. From 2007 to 2013, 3-year estimates were available for areas with 20,000 people or more. This data product was discontinued in 2015 due to budget cuts. The last 3-year release was the 2011-2013 ACS 3-year estimates. Current data releases include: * 1-year estimates are available for areas with a population of at least 65,000 people. The 2015 ACS 1-year estimates were released in 2016 and summarize responses received in 2015 for all states but only 26% of
counties A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
due to the 65,000 minimum population threshold. This is most suitable for data users interested in shorter-term changes at medium to large geographic scales. * Supplemental estimates are shown in annual tables summarizing populations for geographies with populations of 20,000 or more. * 5-year estimates are available for areas down to the
block groupA Census Block Group is a geographical unit used by the United States Census Bureau which is between the census tract, Census Tract and the census block, Census Block. It is the smallest geographical unit for which the bureau publishes sample data, i ...
scale, on the order of 600 to 3000 people. The 2015 ACS 5-year estimates, summarizing data from 2011-2015, were released in 2016. Within the last 10 years, the American Community Survey has collected and supplied all data at local levels. This was a large breakthrough in the survey because it allows the American people more individualized data on a community level as opposed to extrapolating from data collected over a larger area. It has also provided unparalleled information to be more accessible for local government planning and financing. The increase in data availability on a smaller scale is a necessary and welcome addition to the ACS. While the addition is welcome, it does not always accurately reflect a smaller population. Many conclusions for local data is averaged from various information across the area, and while useful, it is not always an adequate representation. ACS estimates are available via a number of online data tools
U.S. Census website
(AFF) is the primary tool for disseminating ACS data, allowing users to drill down to specific tables and geographies (starting with 2013 estimates, AFF also includes block group data). A selection of the most popular tables are shown i
QuickFacts
Other tools includ
OnTheMap for Emergency Management
an
My Congressional DistrictMy Tribal Area
featuring 5-year estimates for federally recognized tribes, launched in 2017. The Summary File is the most detailed data source, and is available as a series of downloadable text files or through an
application programming interface In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and so ...
(API) for software developers. Custom cross-tabulations of ACS questions can be made using th
Public Use Microdata Sample
(PUMS), freely accessible through th

and
Integrated Public Use Microdata Series Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) is the world's largest individual-level population database. IPUMS consists of Microdata (statistics), microdata samples from United States ''(IPUMS-USA)'' and international ''(IPUMS-International)'' c ...
. PUMS data contain responses to every question from a sample of respondents. To protect respondent privacy, PUMS data are anonymized and only available down to areas containing 100,000 people or more known as
Public Use Microdata AreaA Public Use Microdata Area, or PUMA, are geographic units used by the US Census for providing statistical and demographic information. Each PUMA contains at least 100,000 people. PUMAs do not overlap, and are contained within a single U.S. state , s ...
s (PUMAs). The analysis of all ACS microdata without the sampling and anonymization in PUMS is restricted to qualified researchers at secure Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDCs).


Controversy


Support

American Community Survey data provides important information that cannot be found elsewhere. The federal government, as well as various businesses, researchers, and local governments use ACS data for planning and decision-making purposes. ACS data are used by public and business decision-makers to more clearly identify issues and opportunities and more effectively allocate scarce resources to address them. In Fiscal Year 2008, 184 federal domestic assistance programs used ACS-related datasets to help guide the distribution of $416 billion, 29 percent of all federal assistance. The American Community Survey is authorized by 13 U.S.C. § 141 and 13 U.S.C. § 193. Federal courts have held that the long form is constitutional. In 2000, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the 2000 Census and the 2000 Census questions did not violate the Fourth Amendment or other constitutional provisions as alleged by plaintiffs. The court said responses to census questions are not a violation of a citizen's right to privacy or speech. The court's decision was later affirmed by the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (in case citations, 5th Cir.) is a United States federal court, federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the United States district court, district courts in the following United Stat ...
, and the
U.S. Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a coun ...

U.S. Supreme Court
denied petition for writ of certiorari. Additionally, a number of other courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have consistently held through the years that the census and the questions in the census are authorized by both the Constitution and statute. In 2002, the
GAO Gao , or Gawgaw/Kawkaw, is a city in Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤 ...
confirmed that the Census Bureau has authority to conduct the survey and "require responses from the public." All individual American Community Survey responses are kept private and are used (along with other ACS responses) to create estimates of demographic characteristics for various geographies. Because of data swapping techniques to ensure confidentiality, it is impossible to figure out how individual people responded based on data from published ACS estimates.


Opposition

Opponents of the American Community Survey disagree with the court's findings about its constitutionality. They believe the survey asks for more information, and at a higher frequency, than the simple enumeration required by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the
Government Accountability Office The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a legislative branch A legislature is a deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) who use parliamentary procedure Parliamentary ...
's conclusion that the Census Bureau has the authority to conduct the survey under and , several U.S. representatives have challenged the ACS as unauthorized by the Census Act and a violation of the
Right to Financial Privacy Act The Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 (RFPA; codified at , ''et seq.'') is a United States federal law The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United Stat ...
. Rep.
Ron Paul Ronald Ernest Paul (born August 20, 1935) is an American author, activist, physician, and retired politician who served as the U.S. representative The United States House of Representatives is the lower house A lower house is one o ...

Ron Paul
of Texas, who opposes the ACS, said of it that the founding fathers of the United States "never authorized the federal government to continuously survey the American people." Those who decline to complete the survey may receive visits to their homes from Census Bureau personnel. Because it is a mandatory survey, it is governed by federal laws that could impose a fine of as much as $5,000 for refusing to participate. To date, no person has been prosecuted for refusing to answer the ACS. Former Director of the Census Bureau remarked that the Department of Commerce is "not an enforcement agency" and that "the
Department of Justice A justice ministry, ministry of justice, or department of justice is a ministry or other government agency A government or state agency, sometimes an appointed commission, is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of governme ...
would have to do the prosecution, and we don't recommend that." The Census Bureau prefers to gain cooperation by convincing respondents of the importance of participation, while acknowledging that the mandate improves response rates (and thus accuracy) and lowers the annual cost of survey administration by more than $90 million. In 2014, the Census Project, a collaboration of pro-Census business and industry associations, gathered signatures from 96 national and local organizations urging the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to reject a proposal to make the American Community Survey voluntary. Signers included the
US Chamber of Commerce The United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) is a business-oriented American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of ...
, the
National Association of Realtors The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is an American trade association for those who work in the real estate industry. It has over 1.4 million members, including NAR's institutes, societies, and councils, involved in all aspects of the reside ...
and the US Conference of Mayors. The letter cited results from a congressionally mandated test of a voluntary ACS that found that mail response rates would drop "dramatically," by more than 20 percentage points. The resulting loss in quality and reliability would essentially eliminate data for 41 percent of U.S. counties, small cities, towns and villages, many school districts, neighborhoods, remote areas, and American Indian reservations.


Incomplete coverage

Because four major U.S. territories (
American Samoa #REDIRECT American Samoa American Samoa ( sm, Amerika Sāmoa, ; also ' or ') is an unincorporated territory of the United States Under United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) ...

American Samoa
,
Guam Guam (; ch, Guåhan ) is an in the subregion of the western . It is the and territory of the United States (reckoned from the ); in , it is the largest and southernmost of the and the largest island in Micronesia. Guam's capital is , and t ...

Guam
, the
Northern Mariana Islands The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI; ch, Sankattan Siha Na Islas Mariånas; cal, Commonwealth Téél Falúw kka Efáng llól Marianas), is an unincorporated territories of the Unit ...

Northern Mariana Islands
and the
U.S. Virgin Islands The United States Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands of the United States,Also called the ''American Virgin Islands'' are a group of Caribbean islands and an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States The U ...

U.S. Virgin Islands
) are not included in the American Community Survey, it means not every part of the U.S. has recent data.


See also

*
List of household surveys in the United States This is a list of surveys Survey may refer to: Statistics and human research * Statistical survey, a method for collecting quantitative information about items in a population * Survey (human research), including opinion polls Spatial measurement ...
* National Household Survey, a similar survey that is a successor to the 2011 long-form Canadian census


References


Notes


External links


American Community Survey site at the United States Census Bureau

ACS data
from the
Integrated Public Use Microdata Series Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) is the world's largest individual-level population database. IPUMS consists of Microdata (statistics), microdata samples from United States ''(IPUMS-USA)'' and international ''(IPUMS-International)'' c ...

American FactFinder – United States Census Bureau's Searchable Database



American Community Survey (ACS) User Guide for Disability Statistics


{{Authority control United States Census Bureau Household surveys 2005 establishments in the United States