A Summary of the Meeting of May 30-June 1, 2001. The American Community Survey


The American Community Survey, once the sample is fully implemented in every county (planned to start in 2003, slide 49), will provide annual-average estimates of demographic, housing, social, and economic characteristics updated every year for the nation, all states, and as well as for all jurisdictions of 65,000 or more people such as cities, counties, metropolitan areas, and for large population groups. Statistics for smaller jurisdictions, geographic sub-areas, and smaller population groups will be updated for multi-year averages (3-year averages for areas of 20,000 -64,999 and 5-year averages for areas of less than 20,000 people).

Ms. Taeuber outlined several new opportunities for information that the American Community Survey will provide. First, because the survey is updated every year, it allows measurement of the level and direction of change for small areas and population groups (slides 38-43 of handout) on topics such as unemployment and poverty. Second, migration patterns can be better analyzed through this survey data (slide 44). Also, the American Community Survey will improve the ability to develop performance measures for local programs (slide 45). Finally, informed strategic decision making will be made possible by providing the community context for the assessment of needs and resources (slides 46-47).

The speaker emphasized that the American Community Survey is a bridge between Census 2000 and the future (slide 48). The Census Bureau plans to replace the Census long form with the American Community Survey for the 2010 census. She noted, however, that researchers will need to pay attention to the range of error in the estimates (that is, the confidence intervals - slide 51) because, like the decennial census long form, the data are from a sample of the population. For smaller areas, the sample will be accumulated over multiple years to achieve sufficient sample to approximate the sampling error of the decennial census long form. For example, areas of 20,000 to 64,999 can use data averaged over three years starting in 2006, and every year thereafter. For rural areas and city neighborhoods or population groups of less than 20,000 people, starting in 2008 and every year thereafter, a 5-year accumulation of sample will provide estimates similar to those of the decennial census long form. These averages will be updated every year, so that eventually, it will be possible to measure changes over time for small areas and population groups.

The American Community Survey is currently in its development stage. The Census Bureau plans that, beginning in 2003, the American Community Survey will be implemented in all counties across the country of the United States if Congress allocates the necessary funding (slide 49). The fully implemented survey would include three million addresses (households and group quarters). Data are collected by mail with follow-up calls and visits from Census Bureau staff if a household does not respond.

Selected Helpful Sites for ACS (slide 50):

Census 2000: Changes between 1990 and 2000: Several changes were made in the Census 2000 that have implications for indicator development. One new question asked about grandparents as caregivers for dependent children (slide 5). Grandparents who had grandchildren living in their households were asked if they are responsible for the basic needs of the children in the household and for what time period. Another change involved a revision of the question on disability status (slide 6). In Census 2000, the question specifically asks about vision or hearing impairments as well as conditions that limit learning or remembering. And, for the first time, the respondent can select one or more races (slide 13). As in past Censuses, there is a separate question on Hispanic origin (slide 12). In Census 2000, this question was asked before the revised question on race.

The additional choices that the revised question on race allowed meant that tabulations of race and Hispanic origin are more complicated for Census 2000 than for past Censuses. According to Ms. Taeuber, less than 2 percent of the total US population marked two or more races (slides 18-19) although the percentage is higher among children. There are 126 race and Hispanic origin categories in some Census products (slide 15). Most products, however, show only the counts of those who reported six single racial groups and "two or more races" (slide 14). The speaker also provided a paper by Sharon M. Lee entitled Using the New Racial Categories in the 2000 Census for further discussion of the implications of the new categories. This paper was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau March 2000 (http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/categories.htm).