Tuesday, November 21, 2006

2005 American Community Survey

Here's the good news: there are annual data available from the American Community Survey. It now covers geographies of 65,000 or more, compared with the 250,000 population limit from last year. The ACS is designed to replace the 2010 Census long form questions.

Here's the bad news: because of previous cuts in the Congressional funding, the 2005 ACS does not capture data from group quarters, which include prisons, college dormitories, and nursing homes.

So, for instance, the population estimate for the city of Albany - calculated through a different methodology - is 93,523, down from 95,658 in the 2000 Decennial Census. But the 2005 ACS shows 78,404. One cannot make any population comparisons.

Depending on the category, one may or may not be able to compare other characteristics either. For instance, 2005 ACS data in a place with dorms will skew older than what's really happening, whereas a place with a large nursing home will skew younger. Data on race, place of birth, veterans status, and all sorts of work data will be different with a large group quarters facility.

Yet, politicians and the media have glommed onto these new statistics, making assertions about populations that the methodology does not support.

One thing you should get used to is a margin of error figure. For the 2005 ACS population in Albany, it's +/-4,044. This replaces the terms "lower bound" and "upper bound" used in the 2004 ACS, which found data mavens using whichever number was most advantageous.

I'm disinclined to tell people not to use these numbers at all, but certainly, one should use them with extreme caution.

Read what the Census Bureau says about comparing the 2005 ACS with Census 2000:

Comparisons with Census 2000
The Census 2000 data include the population living in both housing units and group quarters. The 2005 ACS only includes the housing unit population. In areas where you feel that the contribution from group quarters is limited [emphasis mine], it is reasonable to make comparisons with Census 2000. For characteristics that Census 2000 tabulated exclusively for the housing unit population, such comparisons are also reasonable. The ACS homepage includes a link to a set of subject definitions. The subject definitions for the 2004 ACS include advice about making comparisons with Census 2000 for each ACS topic. That advice is applicable again for comparing 2005 ACS data with Census 2000. Any monetary estimates from the SF-3 tables must be multiplied by the CPI-U-RS factor 1.13357257.

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Here's an story about 2007 census funding from the current Census News Brief that may apply to the future of the ACS:

The 109th Congress, which reconvened this week for its post-election "lame duck" session, must still complete action on the majority of funding bills for Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07), including the Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations measure (H.R. 5672). This week, legislators are expected to complete their leadership elections and to pass a second Continuing Funding Resolution for the fiscal year that began on October 1, before recessing until the first week in December. The House of Representatives approved the Commerce appropriations bill in June; the full Senate has not taken up the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill passed by the Senate appropriations panel in July.
The first Continuing Resolution in September provided that agencies whose appropriations bill had only passed the House would be funded at the level in the House bill or the Fiscal Year 2006 level, whichever is lower. The House allocated $815.7 million for the Census Bureau, an increase of $14 million over 2006 but $58.3 million below the President’s 2007 request for the agency. Senate appropriators allocated $828 million for the Census Bureau, $50 million below the President’s request.
At a July hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce, Census Director [Louis] Kincannon [who, along with Deputy Director Hermann Habermann, announced their resignations this week] told lawmakers that the House funding bill would force the agency to abandon plans to use GPS-equipped handheld computers for field data collection, a change that could increase the life-cycle cost of the census by almost $1 billion. The director noted that House-passed cuts in Census Bureau funding primarily affected 2010 census planning activities, leaving the bureau with little flexibility to apply the funding reductions to non-decennial programs.
Funding at the House-passed level also could result in cancellation of group quarters coverage in the American Community Survey (ACS), according to the director. Group quarters, which include nursing homes, college dorms, military barracks, and prisons, were first added to the ACS this year. "Ultimately not including the GQ population in the ACS means the ACS cannot fully be the replacement for the long form in 2010," the Census Bureau said in a statement this summer.

Census stakeholder organizations, under the auspices of The Census Project, sent a letter in October to prospective House and Senate conferees on the Commerce appropriations bill, urging them to restore full funding for the Census Bureau in FY07, "to help ensure uninterrupted preparations for the 2010 census and continuation of the full American Community Survey (ACS)." The letter was signed by groups representing a wide range of data users, including local governments, science professionals, and social policy advocates. A copy of the letter is available at thecensusproject.org.

There are several scenarios for completing action on the remaining nine FY07 spending bills, according to senior congressional staff. Lawmakers could reach agreement on some of the appropriations measures in the lame duck session and send them to the President for signature, either separately or in a package (called an Omnibus Appropriations bill). Alternatively, Congress could fail to reach agreement on some or all of the bills and decide to let the 110th Congress finish the job. In that case, Congress would pass another Continuing Funding Resolution to cover all agencies for which a regular appropriations bill was not enacted, before adjourning sine die. The Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations bill historically has been among the most contentious of the funding measures.

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