The Importance of the American Community Survey

Categories: Census, News

Stakeholders, including civil rights and community groups, are urging Congress to ensure adequate funding to maintain and expand the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and ensure the continued reliability of data for all geographic areas and populations.

To help Hill staffers better understand the functions and significance of the ACS, The Annie E. Casey Foundation partnered with the Population Reference Bureau on March 10 to host a seminar titled “Better Data, Better Decisions,” which focused on how Congress, the business community, and local governments use ACS data.

As mandated by the U.S. Constitution, Congress must conduct a national census of the U.S. population.  The ACS, replaced the decennial census long form in 2010, and surveys nearly three million Americans every year.  The difference between the two is that the census provides a snapshot of the nation’s population count every ten years, while the ACS measures the changing social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population. ACS data are released in the year after data are collected.

Congress uses ACS data to determine how $450 billion of federal funds will be distributed throughout the nation. Federal agencies rely on the ACS for implementation of the programs and priorities of the federal government. Businesses use ACS data to make decisions based on costs and demographics.  ACS data drive state and local policy decisions that encourage economic growth, the recruitment and retention of industries, and economic sustainability.

In addition to helping congressional staff understand how ACS is used, the seminar provided important information about ACS confidentiality and the benefits of the ACS for members of Congress to disseminate to their constituents.