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Census Workshop 2021: American Community Survey (ACS)

What is the American Community Survey?

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about our nation and its people. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.

  • Collects/produces population and housing information every year
  • Over 3.5 million housing unit addresses are selected annually
  • Collects more information than decennial census, such as: income, commute time to work, home value, veteran status, and other important data
  • Single-Year Estimates for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more
  • Multiyear Estimates: In 2010, the Census Bureau released the first 5-year estimates for small areas. Additional 5-year estimates have been released annually.

ACS Questionnaires

View the ACS questionnaires from 1996 to the present

Participants can complete questionnaires via online, mail, phone, and in-person interviews. 

Data Profiles

Data Profiles, supported by, have the most frequently requested social, economic, housing, and demographic data. Each of these four subject areas is a separate data profile. The data profiles summarize the data for a single geographic area, both numbers and percent, to cover the most basic data on all topics.

Social Characteristics: includes Education, Marital Status, Relationships, Fertility, Grandparents

Economic Characteristics: includes Income, Employment, Occupation, Commuting to Work

Housing Characteristics: includes Occupancy and Structure, Housing Value and Costs, Utilities

Demographic Characteristics: includes Sex and Age, Race, Hispanic Origin, Housing Units. The Census discusses races and ethnicity here.

Newly Released ACS Data for 2019

On September 17, 2020 the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2019 ACS 1-year data. On December 10, 2020, the ACS 5-year estimates were released. For the first time, data from the 2015-2019 American Community Survey (ACS) will allow users to compare three nonoverlapping sets of 5-year data: 2005-2009, 2010-2014 and 2015-2019. The ability to analyze separate datasets is important for identifying trends for small communities and geographies which is critical for planning future investments and services.

Narrative Profiles


Narrative Profiles are short, analytic reports derived from the ACS 5-year estimates. Each Narrative Profile covers 15 different topic areas and provides text and bar charts to display highlights of selected social, economic, housing and demographic estimates for a selected geographic area.

Hierarchical structure of geographic areas:

  • Nation
  • State
  • County
  • Place
  • Census Tract
  • ZIP Code Tabulation Area
  • Metropolitan/Micropolitan Statistical Area
  • American Indian Area/Alaska Native Area/Hawaiian Home Land


Survey Comparison Table

ACS 1-year estimates ACS 5-year estimates Decennial Census
12 months of collected data 60 months of collected data Point in time data collection
2019 ACS 1-year estimate
2015-2019 ACS 5-year estimate
2020 Decennial Census
Dates collected between:
January 1, 2019 and
December 31, 2019
Dates collected between:
January 1, 2015 and
December 31, 2019
Dates collected:
April 1, 2020
Data for geographic areas with populations
larger than 65,000 (county or metropolitan
statistical area in Hawaii)
Data for geographic areas down
to census tract
Data for geographic areas down
to census block
Smallest sample size Large sample size Counts every person
Highest margin of statistical error Smaller margin of statistical error than
1-year estimate
Smallest margin of error
Most current data Less current data Less current data
Data currency and detailed population
characteristics are more important than
precision of geographic areas
You want to be more precise about geographic
area; not as concerned with currency of data
You can't get the data you want out of the 
ACS; only interested in general population
For Hawaiʻi, you are limited to data at the 
state, county, or metropolitan geographic
For Hawaiʻi, you can examine populations as 
small as census tracts, ZICTAs, or Hawaiian
For Hawaiʻi, you may examine populations
down to the census block group or block


Guide Creator


Sidney Louie