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Blog Category: American Community Survey

The American Community Survey: Best Quality Data with the Least Public Burden

The American Community Survey: Best Quality Data with the Least Public Burden

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

“Better Data for Better Decisions” is my mantra as I crisscross the country talking to people about making the data we collect easier to find, understand and use.  Making government data more accessible or “open” to improve government, business and community decisions is a major initiative in the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”  The open data initiative has the potential to fuel new businesses, create new jobs and help us make better policy decisions. 

One of our best data sources is the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).  The ACS is truly a unique, national treasure, producing a wealth of data on which our country relies to make important decisions.  The ACS is used to inform disbursement of over $400 billion a year in Federal funds.  State and local decision makers rely on the ACS information to guide tough choices about competing funding priorities, such as locating hospitals, funding programs for children, building roads and transportation systems, targeting first responders, supporting veterans, locating schools, and promoting economic development. In short, our community leaders use ACS data to analyze how the needs of our neighborhoods are evolving.  And, our business users rely on ACS data to make key marketing, location and financial decisions to serve customers and create jobs. 

The value of the ACS is immense. It makes our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens more informed. 

This value comes from the fact that the ACS captures so much information so comprehensively.  But, this also means that the value of the ACS depends critically on the people responding to the survey, known as the respondents.  I met recently with members of the ACS Data Users Group, an organization dedicated to sharing innovations and best practices for ACS data use, to discuss how to get the best quality data with the least amount of respondent burden. This is of paramount importance.  A survey seen as too lengthy, burdensome and intrusive will produce lower response rates and could undermine both the quality of the data and value of the survey. But reducing the length of the survey could reduce the amount of information available for decision-making. 

Evaluating the American Community Survey: The ACS Content Review

American Community Survey Brochure

Cross-post, U.S. Census Bureau's Director's Blog by John H. Thompson

Every month of every year, and in every county across the nation, a relatively small number of households receive notice that they have been randomly selected to receive the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The American Community Survey, or ACS, is the lesser known part of the every-ten-year census. To produce more timely statistics between census years, the former “census long form” questions were moved to this rolling survey format after the 2000 Census.

Many of the detailed socio-economic and housing questions on the American Community Survey can trace their genesis back to the 19th century, some even earlier. James Madison, Father of the Constitution and fourth U.S. president, ensured that the Constitution authorized Congress to include questions in the census that provided the level of detail needed to effectively govern the new country.

“In order to accommodate our laws to the real situation of our constituents,” he explained, “we ought to be acquainted with that situation.”

Today, the American Community Survey provides the objective basis for the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal programming decisions. ACS statistics are used by all communities to more clearly plan for investments and services.

Quality ACS statistics are dependent on the participation of all households in the survey. The survey takes time to fill out, with more than 70 questions on dozens of topics.

More Data in the Census Bureau API to Help You #hackforchange

Guest blog post by Logan Powell, Developer Engagement Lead, U.S. Census Bureau

Two years ago, the Census Bureau launched its application programming interface (API), giving developers access to a variety of high value data sets, including our flagship 2010 Census and American Community Survey five-year statistics, providing information for every neighborhood in the nation. Since that initial launch, we have added key economic indicators, as well as the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, and additional American Community Survey data and key economic indicators.

By continuing to release new data sets into the API, and adding more of the Census Bureau’s rich economic statistics to our demographic products, we are giving developers greater flexibility to create new tools to better understand our communities and solve real world issues. Recently, we released even more data sets to the API. These include population estimates, establishment and payroll data from county business patterns, nonemployer statistics, and the latest statistics from the 2012 Economic Census. These statistics allow developers to create a variety of apps and tools, such as ones that allow business owners to find the latest establishment data needed to plan for new or expanded business.

We are continuing to work toward meeting the goals of the Digital Government Strategy for a more “customer-centric” approach. For example, the Census Bureau partnered with Data Innovation DC, a Washington, D.C. meet up group of 1,000 members composed of data scientists, data journalists, civic hackers and data-oriented entrepreneurs, and participated in this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking. We asked real-life data users to discuss their data-related problems. By directly engaging with our customers, we can develop strategies to make our statistics easier to use so that customers can make data-driven decisions. 


We will continue searching for ways to make more of our data available for developers to build apps that make our public data more accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device. By taking part in both local and national “civic hacking” events, we hope these relationships will help us to build stronger ties with our customers while reaching new audiences with our statistics.

I encourage you to visit our API, look for ways to combine our statistics with other sources, and create useful apps that will benefit the public. We look forward to what you will create. 

Collecting Reliable, Timely and Local Census Data

The map shows the percentages under the current, mandatory approach. As a mandatory survey, less than five percent of counties have 80 percent or more of their tracts with unacceptable levels of quality data. This impacts about 15 million people.

Cros-blog post by John H. Thompson, U.S. Census Bureau Direrector

I was pleased to recently participate in the inaugural conference of the American Community Survey Data Users Group. This conference brought together a diverse group of data-loving number crunchers from local governments, nonprofits, economic development agencies, researchers and private sector companies from across the U.S. Their common connection: the reliable, timely and local data about their communities provided by the American Community Survey.

Sessions included case studies on how the American Community Survey statistics are used by cities, rural communities and businesses to measure disaster impacts, create jobs and develop policy for transit, housing and health care. Data users said the ACS is the most authoritative source of data on these topics for communities of every size, and how they rely on the availability of a common source of reliable data.

I was also asked about the challenges to survey data collection, the availability of the data and the impacts to the American Community Survey. They asked me what would happen to the survey if it were not mandated by law. As we have explained in the past, we have looked at this question and our research shows that a voluntary survey would reduce the self-response rates significantly. To make up the shortfall, we would have to increase the number of households surveyed and conduct much more in-person follow-up, at an additional cost of more than $90 million annually. If we weren’t able to increase the number of households surveyed we would collect much less data and accuracy would decrease due to increased sampling variation. This would disproportionately affect the accuracy of the results that we produce for many small areas and small population groups.

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year -- giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.  Data are used to help decide everything from school lunch programs to new hospitals.

Census Bureau’s API Continues Commitment to Innovation

Census Bureau’s API Continues Commitment to Innovation

By Lisa Wolfisch, U.S. Census Bureau

In July 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau launched its first-ever application programming interface, allowing developers to design Web and mobile apps to explore or learn more about America's changing population and economy. The API allows developers more direct access to statistics and easier customization of their applications.

The API serves data from across the decades from the 1990 Census through the 2012 American Community Survey.  These programs offer statistics for every neighborhood in the U.S. and delivers on the Census Bureau’s commitment to create a platform for innovation by “opening up its data.”  Just last month, the Census Bureau updated the API with 13 monthly and quarterly economic indicators.

This information-centric approach promises to be the new default for all public data. Users of all varieties will benefit by creating new ways and tools to explore the data they want, rather than through restrictive PDFs and impossible to download formats.

Developers can use the statistics available through the API to create a variety of apps and tools, such as ones that allow homebuyers to find the latest new residential construction statistics. By combining Census Bureau statistics with other data sets, developers can create tools for researchers to look at topics such as school quality, toxic waste or restaurant locations and how they affect a community.

The Census Bureau not only created the API but is using it to create tools for you to access statistics, such as Easy Stats, a Census Bureau data access program, and dwellr, a mobile app released last November and since refreshed with the latest data.  Both of these tools offer easier access to American Community Survey statistics.

Census Bureau Releases Trends and Facts for Super Bowl XLVIII

Census Bureau Releases Trends and Facts for Super Bowl XLVIII

As we approach Super Bowl weekend, the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Census Bureau released Super Bowl-related facts and statistics examining the demographics of the host city, as well as the cities playing in the Super Bowl: the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Super Bowl XLVIII will be played Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. This will be the first time the Super Bowl has been held in the New York City metropolitan area, as well as being the first Super Bowl played outdoors in the northern United States.

  • 270:  How many more people lived in Seattle than Denver on July 1, 2012, making Seattle 0.04 percent larger than Denver. 
  • 22nd and 23rd:  Where Seattle and Denver ranked right next to each other on the list of the nation's most populous cities.  The estimated population of Seattle on July 1, 2012, was 634,535. The estimated population of Denver on July 1, 2012, was 634,265.
  • 8,978:  Population of East Rutherford, N.J., location of MetLife Stadium where Super Bowl XLVIII will be played.

For more statistics about these cities, go to the Census Bureau's Facts for Features: Super Bowl XLVIII

Non-English Language Use in the United States Mapped

Language Mapper Screenshot showing dots for where Spanish language is spoken

The U.S. Census Bureau has released a web-based map application built to display language data collected from the American Community Survey. 

Language use, English-speaking ability, and linguistic isolation data are currently collected in the American Community Survey. In the past, various questions on language were asked in the censuses from 1890 to 1970. The current language use questions, in use since 1980, gather how many people speak a language other than English at home, what languages are spoken, and how well English is spoken.

For most people residing in the United States, English is the only language spoken in the home. However, many languages other than English are spoken in homes across the country. Data on speakers of languages other than English and on their English-speaking ability provide more than an interesting portrait of our nation. Routinely, these data are used in a wide variety of legislative, policy, legal, and research applications.

Census Bureau's New Tool Puts Congressional District Statistics at Your Fingertips

Census Bureau's New Tool Puts Congressional District Statistics at Your Fingertips

The U.S. Census Bureau has released My Congressional District, the first interactive tool geared exclusively toward finding basic demographic and economic statistics for every congressional district in the U.S. This Web app uses the latest annual statistics from the American Community Survey, providing the most detailed portrait of America's towns and neighborhoods.

Users can sort through statistics in five key categories upon selection of a specific district in the application. Summary level statistics covering education, finance, jobs and housing, as well as basic demographic information, can quickly be displayed, downloaded and shared with others.

A major feature of the My Congressional District app is the ability to embed a selected 113th congressional district on a user's own webpage. The embedded district will display the latest statistics from the American Community Survey, allowing visitors to quickly view statistics for any of the 435 congressional districts and the District of Columbia.

U.S. Census Bureau: 2011 A Year of Successes and Anticipating 2012

In 2011, the Commerce Department's U.S. Census Bureau continued to provide quality statistics to governments and businesses to inform the decisions that affect everyone’s lives. These statistics touch every aspect of Americans’ lives–health, crime, income, education, labor force participation, housing conditions, consumer expenditures and a host of others.

While we have plenty to be proud of, here we highlight some of this year’s big successes.

Innovating Efficiencies:

The Census Bureau is building on the $1.9 billion in savings from the 2010 Census last year by looking for ways to innovate, become more efficient and to save money. The Improving Operational Efficiencies program has generated thousands of ideas from staff, including saving $24 million over a five-year period alone by consolidating IT storage and establishing an enterprise storage area network. We've also worked to streamline our regional office structure. By realigning the field infrastructure, the Census Bureau is saving taxpayer money and keeping pace with current developments in survey work worldwide. The restructuring is projected to result in $15 to $18 million in annual savings to the Federal government commencing in FY 2014. The Census Bureau is striving to be a responsible steward of taxpayer money and, like many in the current economic climate, is committed to the basic premise of doing more with less.

Delivering 2010 Census Products and ACS Data:

The Census Bureau has delivered its many 2010 Census and American Community Survey data products on time and on budget, including the statistics used by states in their redistricting and providing valuable local insights that paint a portrait of America. The ACS provides the most timely estimates available for thousands of small places and population groups on key social and economic attributes. For many of these places and groups, these are the only detailed socioeconomic characteristics available. In the Fall of 2011 the Census Bureau produced detailed statistics for over 700,000 distinct geographic areas, permitting local governments and businesses to make the case to new employers about the value of building new job producing activities in their locales.
 
Feeding the Nation's Appetite for Data:

Here at the Census Bureau, we know that our users want more statistical information; they want it in a more timely fashion; they want it on smaller geographic areas and subpopulations. So we're supplementing our talent in small area estimation, hopefully increasing the breadth of our estimates in many programs. We're redesigning the way that users can access our statistical information on the Web. We want everybody to be able to access our estimates on the Web using any device they happen to use. We are building new statistical products by combining multiple data sets behind our firewalls. We are investing in visualization tools to widen the audience of our statistical information. We will extract more information from the same data sources by increasing our analysis of the data we collect.

This coming year we will see more with our Web transformation and with new tools like the economic indicator dashboard and the county business and demographics map. We will also be gearing up for the Economic Census, and working hard to increase access to our data and participation in our surveys so we can continue to provide quality statistics about the nation's people, places and economy.

Census Bureau Releases Most Up-to-Date Statistics for Every Community Nationwide

Data collected from the American Community Survey are used by transportation planners to improve roads and modes of transportation and reduce traffic congestion

The U.S. Census Bureau today released findings from the American Community Survey — the most relied-on source for detailed, up-to-date socio-economic statistics covering every community in the nation every year — for the combined years from 2006 to 2010.

Consisting of about 11 billion individual estimates and covering more than 670,000 distinct geographies, the five-year estimates give even the smallest communities timely information on more than 40 topics, such as educational attainment, income, occupation, commuting to work, language spoken at home, nativity, ancestry and selected monthly homeowner costs.

“These estimates are ideal for public officials to use to make key decisions,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. “School boards will find them helpful in forecasting demand for classroom space, teachers and workforce training programs, and they will be a tremendous asset to planners in identifying traffic concerns and building roads and transit systems to ease commutes. Local governments will also find them useful in forecasting needs for services such as police and fire protection.”

Today's release is based on completed interviews with almost 2 million housing units each year from 2006 through 2010. By pooling several years of survey responses, the American Community Survey can generate detailed statistical portraits of smaller geographies. The Census Bureau issues new sets of these five-year estimates every year, permitting users to track trends in even the smallest of areas over time.

Visitors to the Census Bureau website can find their community's estimates in the American FactFinder database. Release