(Dec. 14, 2010) Today the U.S. Census Bureau released new five-year estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS), ushering in the most substantial change in the decennial census in more than 60 years. The ACS is replacing the decennial census long form in 2010 by collecting social, economic, and housing data throughout the decade rather than only once every 10 years. The new five-year estimates cover the period from Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2009, and include data for geographic areas as small as neighborhoods and block groups. These five-year data provide us with our first detailed information about local communities since the 2000 Census.

The American Community Survey has great potential as a source of annual information about the social, economic, and demographic characteristics of the U.S. population. The ACS combines the geographic detail of the decennial census with the trend data that are typically available from national surveys. Federal, state, and local governments and planners rely on demographic, housing, social, and economic data in their budget formulations and to allocate funds. For example, ACS data can be used to determine funding levels for food stamp programs; to help decide where to build a new school, highway, or day care center; or to assess compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Corporations, small businesses, and individuals can use these data to develop business plans, strategies for expansion or starting a business, and to determine trends in their service areas to meet the current and changing needs.

However, working with data users around the country, PRB staff recognized that many people are still unsure about how the ACS works and where to find the data they need. So we produced a short tutorial to help people understand and access ACS data. Our tutorial walks you through the complexities of the ACS in an attractive video format, and offers a series of exercises that show you how to access ACS data from the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder website: