American Community Survey
One of the great things about the internet is the vast amount of useful information we can access with just a couple taps on the keyboard. One of the largest sources of information is the U.S. Census Bureau at www.census.gov.
Prior to releasing this information, small communities had to rely on outdated 2000 census figures for detailed information about the characteristics of their communities. The new 5-year ACS estimates give even the smallest communities more timely information on topics ranging from commute times to languages spoken at home to housing values.
The data released on December 14th is based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2009. By pooling several years of survey responses, the ACS can generate detailed statistical portraits of smaller communities. The Census Bureau will release a new set of 5-year estimates every year, giving these communities a powerful tool to track local trends over time.
The 2005-2009 ACS estimates are not tied directly to the 2010 census. Rather, the ACS complements the 2010 census and provides estimates of population characteristics that are far more detailed than the basic demographic information that will be released in February. Because it is a survey based on a sample of the population rather than the entire population, the ACS produces estimates, not actual counts.
Local leaders can use the ACS estimates to help make informed decisions that will affect their community. Before the ACS, estimates about characteristics were only produced once every 10 years through tabulations of responses to the census "long form" sent to a subset of the nation's addresses. Those estimates required two years to tabulate and provided an increasingly outdated picture of the country. By the end of any given decade, community leaders were relying on data that was at 10 years old.
So what information can you find in the ACS estimates? You can drill down into the numbers and find information on all sorts of demographic, social and economic characteristics. For example, I learned that 32.6% of Pekin residents aged 16 to 64 work outside of Tazewell County. I also learned that about one-fourth of Pekin residents have a commute time of less than 10 minutes, and nearly three-fourths of Pekin commuters are on the road less than 24 minutes. A few even ride bikes to work!
You can also compare data between communities. As an example, I found that 17% of Pekinites lived in a different house a year earlier. This compares to 14.3% in East Peoria, and 11.9% in Morton.
Visit www.census.gov and look for links to the American Community Survey to learn about the characteristics of your community.