Who Uses the ACS and Why?

(April 2009) The ACS puts up-to-date information about important social issues at the fingertips of people who need it, including policymakers, researchers, businesses and nongovernmental organizations, journalists, teachers, students, and the public. The federal government uses ACS information to evaluate the need for federal programs and to run those programs effectively. Nongovernmental organizations use the ACS in a variety of ways to monitor trends among important subgroups of the population, often at the state level. Journalists use ACS data to report on new or emerging social trends, or to put a piece of anecdotal evidence into a broader context. And state and local governments are using ACS information to keep track of year-to-year changes in their jurisdictions. Here are a few examples of how ACS data are being used:

  • Federal agencies: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses ACS data on the characteristics of veterans to evaluate the need for educational, employment, and health care programs to assist those who have served in the military. The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) uses income data from the ACS to determine the potential demand for food assistance across states and counties.1
  • Nongovernmental organizations: The Annie E. Casey Foundation uses ACS data to track annual changes in the well-being of children across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including measures of child poverty, educational attainment, school enrollment, and employment status of parents. The Migration Policy Institute uses ACS data to present detailed, state-level information about the 37.5 million current U.S. residents who were born outside of the United States. And the Population Reference Bureau has recently used ACS data to produce a datasheet on the U.S. labor force, including state-level estimates of people working in high-tech and other science and engineering jobs.
  • Journalists: An article on commuting by CNN used ACS data to report that among large cities, New York has the highest share of workers using public transportation, Portland has the highest proportion of people who bike to work, and Boston leads large cities in the proportion of people who walk to work.2
  • State and local governments: Information from the ACS is critical for state and local policymakers and planners who need up-to-date information about their communities to evaluate the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, senior centers, and other basic services. For example, the Council on Virginia’s Future, which advises the governor and Virginia General Assembly, relies on ACS data to monitor annual trends in the travel time to work.

Much of the ACS data provided on the Census Bureau’s website are available separately by age group, race, Hispanic origin, and gender. For example, data users can compare the poverty status of children vs. the elderly, college enrollment rates for males vs. females, or housing costs for African Americans vs. non-Hispanic whites. No other resource provides such a wealth of social, economic, and housing information about American society.


  1. For more information about federal uses of ACS data, see U.S. Census Bureau, Subjects Planned for the 2010 Census and American Community Survey: Federal Legislative and Program Uses, accessed on Feb. 28, 2008.
  2. Les Christie, “New Yorkers Are Top Transit Users: More Than Half Ride Subway or Bus to Work” (June 29, 2007),¬†accessed online at,¬†on Feb. 28, 2008.