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Using the Census Website: American Community Survey

This guide will help you understand how to extract demographic and statistical information from the United States Census website

What is the American Community Survey?

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about our nation and its people. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.

Through the ACS, we know more about jobs and occupations, educational attainment, veterans, whether
people own or rent their home, and other topics. Public officials, planners, and entrepreneurs use this information to assess the past and plan the future. When you respond to the ACS, you are doing your part to help your community plan hospitals and schools, support school lunch programs, improve emergency services, build bridges, and inform businesses looking to add jobs and expand to new markets, and more.

American Community Survey Estimates

Each year, the Census Bureau releases 1-, 3- and 5-year estimates based on information gathered in the ACS.

In deciding which estimate you want to use, you should consider the currency of data; the geographic size of your population; and the acceptable sample size/reliability of the data.  The Census Bureau chart below shows distinguishing features of the different estimates.

1-year estimates

3-year estimates

5-year estimates

12 months of collected data

36 months of collected data

60 months of collected data

Data for areas with populations of 65,000+

Data for areas with populations of 20,000+

Data for all areas

Smallest sample size

Larger sample size than 1-year

Largest sample size

Less reliable than 3-year or 5-year

More reliable than 1-year; less reliable than 5-year

Most reliable

Most current data

Less current than 1-year estimates; more current than 5-year

Least current

Best used when

Best used when

Best used when

Currency is more important than precision

Analyzing large populations

More precise than 1-year, more current than 5-year

Analyzing smaller populations

Examining smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available

Precision is more important than currency

Analyzing very small populations

Examining tracts and other smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available

 

Source: UC San Diego Library LibGuide: http://ucsd.libguides.com/c.php?g=90801&p=584731