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Blog Category: ACS

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.

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.

2010 Census: On-Time, Under-Budget, and Extremely Accurate

Image of Census bureau with social medai icons and website address

Guest blog post by Commerce Deputy Secretary Rebecca M. Blank

Yesterday's U.S. Census Bureau report shows that not only was the 2010 Census delivered on time and significantly under budget–but even more important, it was extremely accurate. I am proud of the extraordinary accomplishment by the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department in its success with the massive 2010 Decennial Census effort that gathered data vital to understanding our nation’s population and to allocating equal representation in our democratic system. The accuracy of the 2010 Decennial Census is particularly impressive considering outside predictions of failure. The Census was able to reverse a decades-long decline in survey response rates with its 2010 count.

The data released yesterday are from a post-enumeration survey of the 2010 Census called the Census Coverage Measurement (CCM) program, which measures the accuracy of the coverage of the nation’s household population (excluding the 8.0 million people in “group quarters,” such as nursing homes or college dorms). It surveys a sample of the 300.7 million people living in housing units and then matches the responses to the census, providing an estimate of exactly who was or wasn’t counted in the census. The results found that the 2010 Census had a very small net overcount–just 0.01 percent–which is statistically virtually the same as zero, and a significant improvement over the 0.49 percent overcount in 2000 and 1.61 percent undercount in 1990. You can learn more about how the Census Bureau conducts the CCM survey after the census to help measure its quality.