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The Value of the American Community Survey: Smart Government, Competitive Businesses, and Informed Citizens

The American Community Survey (ACS) is the largest continuous household survey in the United States, providing a wealth of information about the economic, social and demographic characteristics of persons, as well as housing characteristics. One goal of the ACS is to serve as a cost-effective vehicle for collecting information required by law, regulation, or executive order on behalf of Federal agencies or at the direction of Congress. In conducting the ACS, the U.S. Census Bureau leverages its existing infrastructure and data collection expertise on behalf of the federal government. Like the decennial census long form before it, the ACS provides comprehensive and representative statistical information about large and small communities on a variety of important topics – all while protecting respondents' confidentiality. In addition, because the ACS is a continuous survey, the data is published annually, providing more timely information than the once-per-decade long form.

The value of the ACS lies in its ability to provide statistical information representing large and small communities and demographic groups across the Nation that can be used by governments, businesses and individuals to make better decisions. This ability depends upon sufficiently large samples from these communities, which in turn depends on the mandatory nature of the survey. About 3.5 million households are sampled every year for the American Community Survey, and it takes respondents a total of about 2.4 million hours per year to answer the survey. In exchange, the nation acquires uniquely comprehensive, representative, topical and timely data about its communities that serve as an essential component of the information infrastructure relied upon by decision-makers throughout the country.

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