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ACS 2015 – now available

FeaturesGeographiesVariables1 Year3 Year5 YearWhich To Use Order

American Community Survey (ACS) data files:
The ACS is comprised of different data files:
  • ACS 1-Year Estimates
  • ACS 5-Year Estimates
  • ACS 3-Year Estimates was available through the 2013 version but has been dropped for the 2010-2014 and 2011-2015 data release.

Previously the US Census Bureau (USCB) released a data file called Summary File 3 (SF3) or “Long Form”. That is no longer the case, and instead they are released the American Community Survey. The ACS is a continually running survey, released annually. But, in order to collect enough data so as to model meaningful and valid statistics about small locations the USCB has agglomerated data from multiple years into a single set of results. Thus the ACS 2015 is really all of the surveys the USCB collected from January 1st 2011 through December 31st 2015 merged into a single set of results.

Advantages of each year of the ACS.

The methodology and variables are almost identical between the 2009, 2010 and the 2011 data files. The difference is the geographic boundaries.

2009 ACS is still in the 2000 boundaries which makes it ideal when comparing it to the 2000 Long Form.

2010 ACS (and all subsequent years) are in the 2010 boundaries (as established with the 2010 Redistricting)

2011 ACS (and subsequent years) has added the Zip Code Tabulation Area as a geography for which you can access 5-year estimates

2012 ACS is almost identical to the 2011 except that there are some newly added tables, and of course the 2007 data has been dropped and instead the 2012 added.

The Geographic Differences Between the Different Durations of the Estimates

2013 ACS is the last year to include the 3-year estimates

2014 ACS and 2015 are the most recent

The Geographic Differences Between the Different Durations of the Estimates
The 1-year estimates have data just from the survey year and are available for geographic areas with populations of 65,000 or more.

The ACS 3-year estimates were released for geographic areas with populations of 20,000 or more and were collected over 3 years from January two years prior to the survey year through December of the survey year. For example for the 2010 ACS 3-year estimates they will run from January 2008 – December 2010.

Using the ACS 5-year estimates you can analyze small areas (with a population less than 20,000) such as Block Groups and Tracts (and starting with 2011 the zip code). The problem is that it took 5 years of surveying 2 million people a year to accumulate a large enough sample to provide estimates with accuracy similar to the decennial census. This data file will include data collected starting in January five years prior to the survey year and running for 5 years through December of the survey year (using 2015 as the example January 2011 – December 2015). The data does not show information for individual years but rather only a single number for the average of the area for the 5 years.


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