Census Bureau Pushes for American Community Survey

The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking congressional funding to replace the long form on the next decennial census with a year-to-year survey called the American Community Survey.

TDirect marketers, data users and data providers use the long form for more detailed demographic information about U.S. consumers. It also lets the Census Bureau produce demographic and housing estimates for areas as small as census tracts. The 2000 census was sent to 20 million residential addresses and included 53 questions.

The ACS would replace the long form with a smaller, ongoing, year-to-year survey.

If fully implemented, the survey would canvass 3 million of the country's 120 million households each year, or 250,000 per month. Over five years, the ACS will have a sample of 15 million households. As a result, the number of households sampled would be almost as large as the number contacted through the long form over 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 would never be contacted throughout the decade — just like the long form.

According to census officials and proponents of the ACS, canvassing a select group of residents every year and managing it with a full-time staff — which is part of the ACS plan — would mean higher productivity and less wasted effort. In addition, they say the ongoing ACS will produce more timely data — a benefit in a rapidly changing country. So far, most DMers are in favor of the ACS.

The ACS would cost about the same as the long form.

The ACS has been in a testing phase for the past several years in 35 counties across the country, and the plan is to take it nationwide in 2003.

Census Bureau officials and other ACS proponents have testified about the ACS at congressional hearings and have held briefings to educate the media about the survey.

Whether it will be implemented, however, will be up to Congress, which will have to approve funding to replace the long form with the ACS. Congress also must approve the final phase of testing, which will take place over the next year.

“The big issue right now seems to be whether the Census Bureau will get the funding from Congress needed to take this big step forward,” said Ken Hodges, director of demography at Claritas Inc., Ithaca, NY, a consumer marketing information firm that uses census data for many of its product and service offerings.

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