The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. It regularly gathers information previously contained only in the long form of the decennial census, such as ancestry, educational attainment, income, language proficiency, migration, disability, employment, and housing characteristics. These data are used by many public-sector, 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.
|American Community Survey|
|Participants||3.5 million households/year|
The United States Constitution (Article I, Section II) requires an enumeration of the population every ten years and “in such Manner as they [Congress] shall 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 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.
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. 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 13 U.S.C. § 9, 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."
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, counties, cities, and congressional districts, as well as statistical entities such as metropolitan statistical areas, tracts, block groups, and census designated places. Estimates for census blocks are not available from ACS.
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:
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. American Fact Finder (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 in QuickFacts. Other tools include OnTheMap for Emergency Management, Census Business Builder and My Congressional District. My 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 (API) for software developers.
Custom cross-tabulations of ACS questions can be made using the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS), freely accessible through the Census Bureau website and Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. 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 Areas (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).
American Community Survey data provide 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the 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 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.
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's conclusion that the Census Bureau has the authority to conduct the survey under 13 U.S.C. § 141 and 13 U.S.C. § 193, several U.S. representatives have challenged the ACS as unauthorized by the Census Act and a violation of the Right to Financial Privacy Act. Rep. 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 Kenneth Prewitt remarked that the Department of Commerce is "not an enforcement agency" and that "the Department of Justice 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 National Association of Realtors 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.
Alpine County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,175, making it California's least populous county. The county seat is the Census Designated Place of Markleeville. There are no incorporated cities in the county.
Alpine County is in the Sierra Nevada, between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.Broward County, Florida
Broward County is a county in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Florida. According to a 2017 census report, the county had a population of 1,935,878, making it the second-most populous county in Florida and the 15th-most populous county in the United States. The county seat is Fort Lauderdale.Broward County is one of the three counties in South Florida that make up the Miami metropolitan area, which was home to an estimated 6,158,824 people in 2017.The county is home to 31 municipalities, which consist of 24 incorporated cities and many unincorporated areas. It is also Florida's seventh-largest county in terms of land area, with 1,322.8 square miles (3,426 km2). Broward County's urbanized area occupies 427.8 square miles of land. The largest portion of the county is the Conservation Area that extends west to border Collier County. The conservation area is 796.9 square miles and consists of wetlands, much of which are part of the Everglades National Park. At its widest points, the County stretches approximately 50.3 miles east to west and approximately 27.4 miles from north to south, averaging 5 to 25 feet in elevation.Colusa County, California
Colusa County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 21,419. The county seat is Colusa. It is in the Central Valley of California, northwest of the state capital, Sacramento.Glenn County, California
Glenn County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 28,122. The county seat is Willows. It is located in the Sacramento Valley, in the northern part of the California Central Valley.Greek Americans
Greek Americans (Greek: Ελληνοαμερικανοί, Ellinoamerikanoi) are Americans of full or partial Greek ancestry. About 1.3 million Americans are of Greek descent, although there are estimates that raise this number to 3 million, and 321,144 people older than five spoke Greek at home in 2010.Greek Americans have the highest concentrations in the New York City, Boston, and Chicago regions, but have settled in major metropolitan areas across the United States. In 2000, Tarpon Springs, Florida was home to the highest per capita representation of Greek Americans in the country (11%). The United States is home to the largest Greek community outside of Greece, ahead of Australia, Cyprus, Albania, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.Lake County, California
Lake County is a county located in the north central portion of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 64,665. The county seat is Lakeport. The county takes its name from Clear Lake, the dominant geographic feature in the county and the largest natural lake wholly within California (Lake Tahoe is partially in Nevada; the Salton Sea was formed by flooding).
Lake County forms the Clearlake, CA Micropolitan Statistical Area. It is directly north of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lake County is part of California's Wine Country, which also includes Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. It includes five American Viticultural Areas and over 35 wineries.Lassen County, California
Lassen County is a county in the northeastern portion of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 34,895. The county seat and only incorporated city is Susanville.Lassen County comprises the Susanville, California, micropolitan statistical area. A former farming, mining and lumber area, its economy now depends on employment at two state and one federal prison; the former two in Susanville and the latter in Herlong. In 2007 half the adults in Susanville worked in one of the facilities.Mariposa County, California
Mariposa County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 18,251. The county seat is Mariposa. It is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, north of Fresno, east of Merced, and southeast of Stockton.
The county's eastern section is the central portion of Yosemite National Park.
There are no incorporated cities in Mariposa County; however, there are communities recognized as census-designated places for statistical purposes. It also has the distinction of having no permanent traffic lights anywhere in the county.Mono County, California
Mono County (MOH-noh) is a county located in the east central portion of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 14,202. making it the fifth-least populous county in California. The county seat is Bridgeport. The county is located east of the Sierra Nevada between Yosemite National Park and Nevada.
The only incorporated town in the county is Mammoth Lakes, which is located at the foot of Mammoth Mountain. Other locations, such as June Lake, are also famous as skiing and fishing resorts. Located in the middle of the county is Mono Lake, a vital habitat for millions of migratory and nesting birds. The lake is located in a wild natural setting, with pinnacles of tufa arising out of the salty and alkaline lake.
Also located in Mono County is Bodie, the official state gold rush ghost town, which is now a California State Historic Park.Population Estimates Program
The Population Estimates Program (PEP) is a program of the US Census Bureau that publishes annual population estimates and estimates of birth, death, and international migration rates for people in the United States. In addition to publishing those aggregate estimates for the entire country, the program also publishes those yearly estimates by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin at the national, state, county and city and town level. By doing so, the Population Estimates Program provides up-to-date information on how the size and distribution of the US population has changed each year since the most recent 10-year US Census.The estimates produced by the Population Estimates Program are used in determining how federal funds should be allocated throughout the United States. The annual population estimates are also used as controls for the American Community Survey and the Current population survey (US), which in turn measure diverse demographic data on social, economic and housing characteristics of people in the United States.The basic procedure the Population Estimates Program uses to measure population is to take the updated population count reported by the last US Census, plus the number of births to US resident women, minus the number of deaths of US residents, plus the net number of international migrants. Estimates for the number of US resident births and deaths are based on data on birth certificates and death certificates provided by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Estimates for net international migration are based on information from the American Community Survey, NCHS, and the previous census.Race and ethnicity in the United States
Race and ethnicity in the United States is a complex topic both because the United States of America has a racially and ethnically diverse population and because the country had a heavily racist culture involving slavery and anti-miscegenation laws. At the federal level, race and ethnicity have been categorized separately.
The most recent United States Census officially recognized five racial categories (White American, Black or African American, Native American and Alaska Native, Asian American, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander) as well as people of two or more races. The Census Bureau also classified respondents as "Hispanic or Latino" or "Not Hispanic or Latino", identifying Hispanic and Latino as an ethnicity (not a race), which comprises the largest minority group in the nation. The United States Supreme Court unanimously held that "race" is not limited to Census designations on the "race question" but extends to all ethnicities, and thus can include Jewish (which has the unique status as both an ethnicity and a religion), Arab, Hungarian, Laotian, Zulu, etc. The Census also asked an "Ancestry Question," which covers the broader notion of ethnicity, in the 2000 Census long form and the American Community Survey; the question will return in the 2020 Census.As of July 2016, White Americans are the racial majority. African Americans are the largest racial minority, comprising an estimated 12.7% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans are the largest ethnic minority, comprising an estimated 17.8% of the population. The White, non-Hispanic or Latino population make up 61.3% of the nation's total, with the total White population (including White Hispanics and Latinos) being 76.9%.White Americans are the majority in every census-defined region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) and in every state except Hawaii, but contribute the highest proportion of the population in the Midwestern United States, at 85% per the Population Estimates Program (PEP) or 83% per the American Community Survey (ACS). Non-Hispanic Whites make up 79% of the Midwest's population, the highest ratio of any region. However, 35% of White Americans (whether all White Americans or non-Hispanic/Latino only) live in the South, the most of any region.Currently, 55% of the African American population lives in the South. A plurality or majority of the other official groups reside in the West. The latter region is home to 42% of Hispanic and Latino Americans, 46% of Asian Americans, 48% of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 68% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, 37% of the "two or more races" population (Multiracial Americans), and 46% of those self-designated as "some other race".Sacramento County, California
Sacramento County is a county in the U.S. state of California, State of the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,418,788. Its county seat is Sacramento, which has been the state capital of California since 1854.
Sacramento County is the central county of the Greater Sacramento metropolitan area. The county covers about 994 square miles (2,570 km2) in the northern portion of the Central Valley, on into Gold Country. Sacramento County extends from the low delta lands between the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River, including Suisun Bay, north to about ten miles (16 km) beyond the State Capitol and east into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The southernmost portion of Sacramento County has direct access to San Francisco Bay.San Benito County, California
San Benito County, officially the County of San Benito, is a county located in the Coast Range Mountains of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 55,269. The county seat is Hollister.San Benito County is included in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.
El Camino Real passes through the county and includes one mission in San Juan Bautista.Sierra County, California
Sierra County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 3,240 making it California's second-least populous county. The county seat is Downieville, and the only incorporated city is Loyalton. The county is in the Sierra Nevada, northeast of Sacramento on the border with Nevada.Solano County, California
Solano County is a county located in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 413,344. The county seat is Fairfield.Solano County comprises the Vallejo–Fairfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area. Solano County is the northeastern county in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area region.
A portion of the South Campus at the University of California, Davis is in Solano County.Sutter County, California
Sutter County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 94,737. The county seat is Yuba City.Sutter County is included in the Yuba City, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the Sacramento-Roseville, CA Combined Statistical Area. The county is located along the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Valley.Trinity County, California
Trinity County is a county in the northwestern part of the state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 13,786, making it the fourth least-populous county in California. The county seat and largest community is Weaverville.Weaverville has the distinction of housing some of California's oldest buildings. The courthouse, built in 1856, is the second oldest in the state, and the Weaverville Drug Store has been filling prescriptions since 1852. The Joss House is a historic Taoist temple built in 1873.
Trinity County is rugged, mountainous, heavily forested, and lies along the Trinity River within the Salmon and Klamath Mountains. It is also one of three counties in California with no incorporated cities.Yolo County, California
Yolo County, officially the County of Yolo, is a county located in the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 200,849. Its county seat is Woodland.Yolo County is included in the Greater Sacramento metropolitan area and is located in the Sacramento Valley.
The majority of Yolo County remains a relatively rural agricultural region. Much of California's multibillion-dollar tomato industry that accounts for 90% of the canned and processed tomato production in the United States and 35% worldwide, is located in Yolo County.Yuba County, California
Yuba County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 72,155. The county seat is Marysville. Yuba County is included in the Yuba City, California Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Sacramento–Roseville, California Combined Statistical Area. The county is located in the state's Central Valley region along the Feather River.