In October, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report detailing why it planned to release the results of the 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates in an experimental format. The ACS is the only annually updated source of detailed social, demographic, and economic information for all communities in the United States.
In addition, the Bureau announced in November that it would delay the release of the 5-Year ACS estimates that had been planned for December 2021. At present, the Bureau plans to release data for the 5-Year ACS in March 2022 but has not confirmed that it will be a standard release. They plan to provide more information in December.
This blog post details the planned changes for both the 1-Year ACS and the 5-Year ACS and what we know so far. We will continue to update you as we learn more about these changes.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that is sent to a sample of households across the United States and Puerto Rico on a monthly basis (~3.5M households each year). The survey asks about topics that aren’t on the census, such as: educational attainment, Internet access, transportation, and employment. The ACS data is released annually for all geographies:
The ACS is best used for understanding population characteristics—percents, means, medians, and rates—rather than population counts.
Every year, the Bureau releases both summary data—pre-tabulated tables and profiles—and Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) with individual-level responses for the 1-Year and 5-Year ACS.
|What kinds of questions can the ACS answer?||Who uses it and for what?||Smallest geography available|
|How many households in the United States have broadband access? |
How many children in the US live with their grandparents?
How many people have private health insurance?
|Local and national leaders use ACS data to make decisions for programs, economic development, emergency management, and understanding local issues.||1-year: Areas with 65K+ residents
5-year: block group
The 5-Year ACS estimates provide detailed information for all geographies (down to the block group level). These combine the last five years of American Community Survey data for more accurate estimates of small areas. For example, the 2019 5-Year ACS uses data collected from 2015 through 2019.
Decisions made about how to incorporate the 2020 data into the 5-Year file will impact data users for the next five years, as the 2020 data will be a part of each 5-Year file until 2026 when the 2021-2025 5-Year file will be released.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted data collection for the ACS in the following ways:
After evaluating the data collected, the Bureau determined that the 2020 ACS data did not meet their Statistical Quality Standards. Shortly after, they delayed the release of the ACS data products and modified the release plan for the 1-Year ACS.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Bureau is not releasing its standard set of 1-Year ACS estimates and made the following changes:
For individuals who use ACS data, the Bureau makes the following recommendations for working with the 2020 Experimental ACS data:
The data being collected in 2021 is less impacted by the pandemic and the Bureau anticipates that they will be able to resume regular release schedules. However, they will not be able to make this determination until all data are received and processed (late spring 2022).
The 2021 ACS data will also be the first ACS data to use the new 2020 Census results and 2020 Census geographies, so ACS data users should expect population totals and geographic boundaries to change.
We’ll be closely monitoring what the Bureau says over the next several weeks and will provide updates as we learn more. If you have specific questions, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer them.
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