Census Bureau Releases Locality-Specific Data Today

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The U.S. Census Bureau releases locality-specific data today from a survey of 700,000 households in 12 counties called the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey.

The data come from areas with a population of 250,000 or greater. The survey was designed to test the feasibility of collecting long-form-type data simultaneously but separately from a decennial census. Direct marketers, data users and data providers look to the long form for more detailed demographic information about U.S. consumers. The 2000 census long form was sent to 20 million residential addresses and included 53 questions.

If it receives congressional approval, this kind of smaller, annual survey would be a permanent substitute for the long form. An enlarged version, called the American Community Survey, would be conducted continually, covering 3 million households annually and yielding a new snapshot of the country every year instead of the data burst that now comes every 10 years.

The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, which used the ACS methodology and questionnaire, is the largest survey ever conducted by the Census Bureau outside a decennial census.

"The primary purpose of the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey was to evaluate the American Community Survey on a national scale for the first time," said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Washington-based consultant to the Census 2000 Initiative, who spoke at a news conference about both surveys in Washington yesterday. "It will also allow the bureau to assess its ability to field the American Community Survey during a decennial census and will provide a benchmark with comparing ACS data with Census 2000 data from both the short and the long form."

As part of a 2010 census re-engineering plan -- if Congress approves -- the ACS would eliminate the census long form by producing up-to-date data yearly for all communities and population groups of all sizes beginning in 2008. The constitutionally mandated short form would continue to be conducted once a decade.

The ACS would collect information from a sample of 250,000 households per month, or 3 million households per year. Over five years, it would reach 15 million households, more than the number contacted through the long form based on a five-year period. However, in a given year, the number of households surveyed would be smaller with the ACS. No one household would be contacted more than once in a five-year period, but some never would be contacted throughout the decade, as with the long form.

According to census officials and ACS proponents, canvassing a select group of residents yearly and managing it with a full-time staff -- which is part of the ACS plan -- would mean higher productivity and less wasted effort. They say the continuing ACS also would produce more timely data, a benefit in a rapidly changing country.

So far, most direct marketers favor the ACS.

The ACS would cost about the same as the long form. It has been in a testing phase for several years in 35 counties across the country, and the plan is to take it nationwide in 2003.

The first wave of the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey estimates were released in August. These estimates were based on a monthly sample of about 58,000 households in 1,203 counties.

The figures highlighted the nation's households, employment and finances. They revealed a richer, better-educated population than was counted in 1990, and a fast-growing immigrant population that speaks English at home less frequently -- a change merely hinted at in the 2000 short form.

In addition, the new figures found that median annual household income rose to $41,343, compared with $30,056 in the 1990 census, not adjusted for inflation. The portion of Americans with college degrees was measured at 25.1 percent, compared with 20.3 percent in the 1990 census.


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