Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Data 101 Tutorials on the American Community Survey

What Is the American Community Survey?

Assessing the Reliability of ACS Estimates

PRB developed a video tutorial series to introduce data users to the American Community Survey (ACS) and provide key information about how to access and use ACS data.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s ACS provides detailed social, economic, housing, and demographic statistics for the United States and its communities every year. Data analysts, government officials, businesses, and many others use these statistics for local planning and policy development, and to track the population’s well-being.

Through these tutorials, you’ll also learn where to find additional resources available through the U.S. Census Bureau.

These tutorials were funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support. The material presented in these videos is by PRB alone and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.


Understanding and Using 5-Year Estimates From the ACS

(December 2010) New five-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey create many new opportunities as well as challenges for data users. In this PRB webinar—delivered to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Network—Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB discusses what to expect from the new estimates and offers some practical guidelines for working with the data. The presentation is divided into four sections. Click on the title of each section to view the webinar.


Introduction and Overview

Focus of Presentation
About the American Community Survey
ACS Estimates are Period Estimates
Population Thresholds for ACS Data
Geographic Areas Available for 5-Year ACS Estimates
Timetable for ACS Data
Data Products Available for 5-Year ACS Estimates
Data Overload?

Accuracy of the Data
Accuracy of ACS Estimates (Nonsampling Error)
U.S. Population Trends, 1990-2010
A Low Census Count in 2010?
Implications for ACS Comparisons
Other Considerations in Making Comparisons
Guidelines for Making Comparisons Between Data Sources
Accuracy of ACS Estimates (Sampling Error)
Options for Dealing with Small Numbers

Case Study: Choosing Between ACS Estimates
Case Study: Presenting County-Level ACS Data for Vermont
Option 1: Present 5-Year Estimates for All Counties
Option 2: Present 3-Year Estimates for All Counties
Option 3: Present 3-Year Estimates for Counties and County Groups
Option 4: Present 1-Year Estimates for Counties and County Groups
Option 5: Present Data from Decennial Census or Alternative Source if Available
How to Choose Which Data to Use?

Accessing the Data
Accessing 5-Year ACS Data
Potential Improvements to the ACS
Final Thoughts
Two New Online Tutorials
Contact Information