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The U.S. Census Bureau today released 5-year American Community Survey (ACS) estimates for the first time, making available social, economic, housing and demographic statistics for every community in the nation.
Up until now, small geographic areas had to rely on outdated 2000 Census figures for detailed information about the characteristics of their communities. Consisting of about 11.1 billion individual estimates and covering more than 670,000 distinct geographies, the 5-year ACS estimates give even the smallest communities more timely information on topics ranging from commute times to languages spoken at home to housing values.
"The ACS represents the first time such a massive compilation of data estimates for small geographic areas is available," said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. "These estimates deliver on our commitment to Congress to provide timely statistics on our communities and our economy, allowing for a more efficient government."
The data released today are based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009. By pooling several years of survey responses, the ACS can generate detailed statistical portraits of smaller geographies. The Census Bureau will release a new set of 5-year estimates every year, giving these communities a powerful tool to track local trends over time.
Public officials, including mayors and governors, and private organizations such as chambers of commerce, rely on ACS estimates on education, housing, jobs, veteran status and commuting patterns to help them make informed decisions that will affect their community, such as where to build new schools, hospitals and emergency services.
"The data provided through the ACS provide a statistical foundation to evaluate our nation's needs, and we now share them with communities across the country as a powerful resource for decision making," Groves said.
The new 2005-2009 ACS estimates are not related to the 2010 Census population counts that will be released Dec. 21. The ACS complements the decennial count and provides estimates of population characteristics that are far more detailed than the basic demographic information that will be released from the 2010 Census, which will be available starting in February.
As a complete count of the population, the 2010 Census data are critical for knowing how many people live in the United States, where they live and their basic demographic information such as race, sex and Hispanic origin. The ACS estimates, on the other hand, are based on a sample survey of the nation and are intended to describe the characteristics of the U.S. population, not to provide population counts.
Before the ACS, estimates about characteristics were only produced once every 10 years through tabulations of responses to the decennial census "long form" sent to a subset of the nation's addresses. Those estimates required two years to tabulate and provided an increasingly outdated picture of the country. By the end of any given decade, decision and policy makers often had to rely on 10-year-old data.
Given the critical role that these long form estimates played in national and local decision making, the Census Bureau responded by developing a continuous measurement concept that would provide more timely data. Approval by Congress helped turn the Census Bureau's innovation into the American Community Survey.
For areas with populations of 65,000 or more ― covering 6,600 separate geographies ― the Census Bureau has produced 1-year ACS estimates every year since 2005. The latest estimates from 2009 were released Sept. 28 (http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/american_community_survey_acs/cb10-cn78.html)>. These areas require only one year of survey responses to produce reliable estimates.
Because it is a survey based on a sample of the population rather than the entire population, the ACS (like the census long form it replaces) produces estimates, not actual counts. To aid data users, the Census Bureau calculates and publishes a margin of error for every ACS estimate it produces, a step not taken for estimates from the 2000 Census long form. However, the technical documentation provided with Census 2000 Summary File 3 does contain the information needed to calculate a margin of error for those published estimates.
ACS 5-year estimates on 72 topics can be downloaded for more than 670,000 geographic areas, including states, counties, cities, tribal areas and more. See http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/data_documentation/2009_release/GeographiesbyDataProduct2005_2009_5Year.xls [Excel, 34kb] for more information on geographies.
As an illustration of the kinds of information provided in these new ACS 5-year estimates, below are some examples of available statistics derived from the tables at the county level.
The county-level poverty rate for individuals ranged from less than 4 percent to more than 40 percent.
In 19 counties or county equivalents, the poverty rate was below 5 percent. These included five counties or independent cities in Virginia, three counties in New Jersey, two in Colorado and Wisconsin, and one in Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio and South Dakota.
In 21 counties, more than one-in-three individuals were living in poverty. Of the five counties with poverty rates greater than 39 percent, four contain or are contained within American Indian reservations: Sioux County, N.D., which is contained within the Standing Rock Indian Reservation; Buffalo County, S.D., which contains the Crow Creek Indian Reservation; Shannon County, S.D., which is contained within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; and Todd County, S.D., which is contained within the Rosebud Indian Reservation. The fifth, Willacy County, Texas, is on the Gulf Coast.
The poverty rate for individuals 65 and over ranged from 0 percent to more than 30 percent for Owsley County, Ky.; Holmes County, Miss.; Shannon County, S.D.; and Kenedy, Maverick, Starr and Willacy counties in Texas.
The counties with the lowest median home values for owner-occupied housing units included Reeves, Texas, at $29,400. Counties with the highest median home values included Nantucket, Mass., at about $1 million.
Thirty-two counties had median home values of greater than $500,000, the majority of which were in California.
Thirty-three counties had median home values of less than $50,000, 19 of which were in Texas.
The counties with the lowest mean travel time to work included King, Texas, at 3.4 minutes, while counties with the highest mean travel time to work included Richmond, N.Y., at 42.5 minutes.
Four counties, all in New York, had mean travel times to work in excess of 40 minutes: Richmond, Queens, Kings and Bronx.
Fourteen counties or county equivalents, all but two in Alaska, had mean travel times to work of less than 10 minutes.
In 24 counties, more than one-third of all households were married couple families with children under 18, including about one-quarter of the counties in Utah. Of the remaining 17 counties, most were relatively wealthy suburban counties (e.g. Douglas, Colo.; and Loudon, Va.).
By contrast, there were 10 counties or county equivalents where less than one-in-10 households were married couple families with children. These included the cities of Richmond, Petersburg and Williamsburg in Virginia; Baltimore, Md.; and the District of Columbia.
The percent of those 25 and over who had completed high school ranged from 46.5 percent in Starr County, Texas, to 98.7 percent in Hinsdale County, Colo., and Los Alamos County, N.M.
In 10 counties, more than 95 percent of the population 25 and over had completed high school. Of the 10 counties with high school completion rates over 95 percent, three were in Colorado (Hinsdale, Douglas and Routt) and three were in Nebraska (Wheeler, Logan and Grant).
Five counties had less than 60 percent of the population 25 and over that had completed high school. Among these five counties, four were in Texas (Maverick, Presidio, Starr and Willacy) and the fifth was Holmes County, Ohio.
The percent of those 25 and over who had completed a bachelor's degree ranged from 4.6 percent in Owsley County, Ky., to 69.5 percent in Falls Church, Va.
Seventeen counties or county equivalents had populations where more than 50 percent of those 25 and over had a bachelor's degree. Seven of these counties were in the suburbs of the District of Columbia, three in Colorado (Boulder, Douglas and Pitkin) and two in California (Marin and San Francisco). Pitkin County, Colo., with an estimated population of just over 15,000, is the smallest of these counties.
There were 62 counties where less than 10 percent of the population 25 and over had a bachelor's degree. Fourteen of these counties were in Georgia, nine in Tennessee, eight in Kentucky and five each in Florida and West Virginia.
The county with the highest percentage of the population 5 and over that spoke Spanish at home was Starr, Texas, at 95.9 percent. Starr was one of 28 counties, and one of 22 counties in Texas, where more than half the population 5 and over spoke Spanish at home. More than 200 counties had less than 1 percent of the population 5 and over that spoke Spanish at home, including 25 counties in West Virginia and 22 in Kentucky. In Maine, there were no counties where the percent of Spanish speakers exceeded 2 percent.
Counties with the lowest median household income included Owsley County, Ky., at $18,869, while counties or county equivalents with the highest median household income included Falls Church, Va., at $113,313. In addition to Falls Church, only two other counties had median household incomes greater than $100,000 ― Fairfax and Loudoun counties, both in Virginia.
Eighteen counties had a median household income of less than $25,000. These included six counties in Kentucky, three counties in Mississippi and Texas, two counties in Alabama, and one county in Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Nine counties in the United States had populations that were greater than one-third foreign-born. These included three counties in California (Los Angeles, Santa Clara and San Francisco), two county equivalents in Alaska (Aleutian East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area), and two counties in New York (Kings and Queens), along with Miami-Dade, Fla., and Hudson, N.J. Two of these ― Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area ― were in counties with total populations of less than 20,000 people.
There were 292 counties with populations that were less than 1 percent foreign-born, including 34 counties in Kentucky, 27 in West Virginia, 26 in Missouri and 21 in Mississippi. Of those 292 counties, 222 had total populations less than 20,000 people.
The American Community Survey replaces the "long form" that historically produced demographic, housing and socioeconomic estimates for the nation as part of the once-a-decade census. The decennial census program, which includes the American Community Survey and the 2010 Census, along with the U. S. Census Bureau's population estimates program, serve as the basis for the allocation of more than $400 billion in federal funds to state, local and tribal governments every year. These vital estimates also guide planning in the private sector as well as the work done by policy makers at all levels of government and in communities of all sizes. All survey responses are strictly confidential and protected by law. The collection of this information has been directed by Congress or the federal courts.
As is the case with all surveys (including the 2000 Census "long form"), statistics from sample surveys are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. Please consult the data tables for specific margins of error. For more information, go to http://www.census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/documentation_main/.
Changes in survey design from year to year can affect results. See http://www.census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/2009_release/ for more information on changes affecting the 2005-2009 ACS data. See http://www.census.gov/acs/www/guidance_for_data_users/comparing_2009/ for guidance on comparing 2005-2009 ACS data with data from previous years and the 2000 Census.
Visit American FactFinder, the Census Bureau's online data tool, to obtain the 2005-2009 ACS data. Bulk downloads of all the data for specified geographic areas are available from the ACS ftp server at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/data_via_ftp/.