Tuesday, July 19, 2005


There's a U.S. Census activity now taking place that will eliminate the need for the long form in the 2010 Census, and beyond. The American Community Survey is a nationwide survey designed to provide information more quickly, rather than having users wait for 10 years. Yet it it has received very little publicity, because the Bureau has little or no budget for promotion.

"The decennial census has two parts: 1) the short form, which counts the population; and 2) the long form, which obtains demographic, housing, social, and economic information from a 1-in-6 sample of households. Information from the long form is used for the administration of federal programs and the distribution of billions of federal dollars.

"Planners and other data users are reluctant to rely on [out-of-date data] for decisions that are expensive and affect the quality of life of thousands of people. The American Community Survey is a way to provide the data communities need every year instead of once in ten years."

Responsing to the ACS is mandatory. "The U.S. Census Bureau may use this information only for statistical purposes... confidentiality is protected.

"Full implementation of the American Community Survey is planned in every county of the United States. The survey would include approximately three million households. Data are collected by mail and Census Bureau staff follow up with those who do not respond.

"The American Community Survey will provide estimates of demographic, housing, social, and economic characteristics every year for all states, as well as for all cities, counties, metropolitan areas, and population groups of 65,000 people or more.

"For smaller areas, it will take three to five years to accumulate sufficient sample to produce data for areas as small as census tracts. For example, areas of 20,000 to 65,000 can use data averaged over three years. For rural areas and city neighborhoods or population groups of less than 20,000 people, it will take five years to accumulate a sample that is similar to that of the decennial census. These averages can be updated every year. Eventually, [the Census Bureau] will be able to measure changes over time for small areas and population groups." What this means, in English, is that Census will be using rolling averages for the smallest geographies; the 2004-2008 average (or cumulative) data, then the 2005-2009 data, etc.

There is data now available at the website above. The earliest years have information for test counties only, but starting with the 2003 numbers, there is full national coverage, limited only by the size standard. By 2008, that won't be an issue, either.

However, the one thing that may derail ACS is the annual appropriation. The Census Bureau believes that the ACS will save money in the future by having a trained staff taking in this information now, using electronic intake forms. However, Congress has not always agreed with this philosophy. If money is not appropriated regularly starting now, the Census Bureau will necessarily resort to having a 2010 long form.

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