Last week, the Census Bureau released the 2016-2020 5-Year American Community Survey data. Here’s what you need to know.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that covers detailed social and economic topics, such as education, employment, internet access, and transportation. Each year*, the Census Bureau releases single-year estimates for places with populations of 65,000 or over and 5-year estimates for places with populations less than 65,000. (*The 2020 single-year estimates were not released due to the impacts of COVID-19 on data collection. Instead, the Bureau released experimental estimates.)
For more information about the ACS, see:
No. The 2016-2020 ACS release is not 2020 Census data. However, it does use the 2020 Census boundaries for tracts and block groups. The tract and block group boundaries change each decade, so this represents the first detailed demographic, economic, and social characteristics for these subcounty areas.
All tables for North Carolina, its counties, municipalities, and other geographies are available at http://data.census.gov. You can access:
Several things are new in the 2016-2020 5-Year ACS release:
What does this mean? If you see major changes or issues, be cautious in interpreting them.
The ability to understand the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are limited when using the 5-Year data file. In discussing the increase in median household income and decrease in poverty during 2016-2020 compared to 2011-2015, the Bureau notes:
…the ACS 5-year estimates are not designed to measure rapid change during short periods because the data come from a 5-year period. Although the most recent estimates contain data that include the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, they also contain data collected in the final years (2016–2019) of the longest expansion in the history of U.S. business cycles. These data only reflect a small part of the impact of the pandemic on social, economic and housing measures.
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