Key Themes: Reflections from the Child Indicators Projects
Use of Census 2000 and the
American Community Survey
for Indicators at the State and Local Levels
Cynthia M. Tauber, U.S. Census Bureau and University of Baltimore
Mairéad Reidy, Chapin Hall Center for Children
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This short paper draws on the presentation made by Cynthia Tauber (U.S. Census
Bureau and University of Baltimore at the Spring 2001 Child Indicators meeting
on the use of the Census 2000 and the American Community Survey for child
indicators at the state and local levels.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office
of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), with additional
support from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the David
and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Child Indicators project has aimed over
the past 3 years to promote state efforts to develop and monitor indicators
of health and well-being of children during this era of shifting policy.
The fourteen participating states are Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida,
Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Utah,
Vermont, and West Virginia. Chapin Hall Center for Children provided technical
assistance to grantees. Grantees typically exchanged knowledge and expertise
through a series of technical assistance workshops coordinated by and held
at Chapin Hall Center for Children. The workshops encouraged peer leadership
and collaboration among states, and provided states with an opportunity to
work with and learn from one another on areas of common interest.
The presentation provided an overview of Census 2000 and the American Community
Survey and reviewed how these can be used to build child and family well-being
The main purpose of Census 2000 is to count the population every 10
years, while the American Community Survey provides yearly updated information
on the characteristics of the population. Both provide statistics
for small geographic areas and small population groups. The questions on
the American Community Survey provide indicators that are similar to those
of the Census 2000 long form.
The Census 2000 short form asks seven questions of evey person and housing
unit in the U.S. about age, race, Hispanic origin, gender, household
relationship, and housing tenure (owner or rented). Field staff determine
characteristics of vacant housing units.
Respondents could select one or more races, a change from 1990. As in past
Censuses, there is a separate question on Hispanic origin.
Less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population marked two or more races;
the percentage is higher among children. There are 126 race and Hispanic
origin categories in some Census products. Most products, however, show only
the counts of those who reported six single racial groups and "two or more
races." See Sharon M. Lee, Using the New Racial Categories in the 2000 Census,
Additional questions are asked in the long form of a sample of housing units
and people living in group quarters.
Population statistics are provided on a range of topics including marital
status, place of birth/citizenship, disability, ancestry, migration, language
spoken at home and ability to speak English, school enrollment and educational
attainment, grandparents as caregivers, place of work and journey to work,
occupation, industry and class of worker, work status in the week before
the Census or the last year in which the person worked, and income in 1999.
A new question asked about grandparents as caregivers for dependent children
and for how long they had been responsible for their basic needs.
In Census 2000, the disability question specifically asks about vision or
hearing impairments as well as conditions that limit learning or remembering.
Housing statistics based on the long form include number of rooms and bedrooms,
plumbing and kitchen facilities, the age and value of the housing unit, and
questions to indicate housing affordability including the cost and type of
utilities, mortgage/rent paid, and taxes and insurance.
Results are available for geographic levels, including the Block (short form
information only), Block Group, Census Tract, County, Metropolitan area,
state, and national levels.
A significant change from the 1990 Census is the race question. Various groups
are working out options for comparing racial categories from the 1990 and
Information about Census 2000 products, documentation, and the product release
schedule are on the Census Bureau's website:
http://www.census.gov. Other sites:
American Community Survey
The American Community Survey, once the sample is fully implemented in every
county (planned to start in 2003), will provide annual-average estimates
of demographic, housing, social, and economic characteristics updated every
year for the nation, all states, and jurisdictions of 65,000 or more people.
Statistics for small areas will be updated for multi-year averages (3-year
averages for areas of 20,000 to 64,999 and 5-year averages for areas of less
than 20,000 people). With the annually updated averages, it will be possible
to measure changes over time for small areas and population groups.
The American Community Survey provides new opportunities for researchers.
The statistics are updated every year. This permits measurement of the level
and direction of change and indicators of program performance. Information
about migration patterns will be available. The survey helps in the assessment
of needs and resources and informed strategic decisionmaking.
The Census Bureau plans to replace the long form with the American Community
Survey for the 2010 Census.
The Congress approves questions on the decennial Census and the American
Community Survey. They have approved only those questions mandated or required
by Federal legislation or court cases. That presents considerable challenges
to adding new questions to the American Community Survey or the next Census.
Be cautious about comparisons of survey and administrative datasets. There
are crucial differences in concepts and data collection methods among datasets.
As such, estimates of population characteristics from surveys such as the
decennial Census and the American Community Survey will differ (see
Researchers are encouraged to report their needs for tabulations to the Census
Bureau to consider for future American Community Survey or Census products.
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Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services