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Fact Sheet

Differences between the Race Estimates from the American Community Survey and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey

24 August, 2004

When fully implemented, the American Community Survey (ACS) will be the largest household survey in the United States. Like the decennial census long form it is designed to replace, the ACS provides labor force estimates for small geographic areas - most cities, counties, and metropolitan areas of 250,000 or more during the testing phase, and, beginning in 2010, the ACS will use multi-year averages to provide estimates for all areas down to census tracts/block groups. Estimates for the nation and states are also available. All ACS estimates are updated annually.

Because of its detailed questionnaire and its experienced interviewing staff, the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) is a high quality source of information used to produce the official annual estimate of poverty, and estimates of a number of other socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, including income, health insurance coverage, school enrollment, marital status, and family structure.

The following summarizes the key differences between the ACS and the CPS:

Principal Purpose

American Community Survey: Replace decennial census long form by providing annual (or multi-year average) estimates of selected social, economic, and housing characteristics of the population for many geographic areas and subpopulations.

Current Population Survey: Produce specific socioeconomic and demographic estimates for the United States, and estimates for states for selected characteristics and subpopulations.


American Community Survey: Nation, states, and cities and counties of 250,000 or more. Eventually, areas as small as census tracts using multi-year averages.

Current Population Survey: Nation, regions, and states for selected characteristics.

Sample Size

American Community Survey: About 800,000 addresses per year during the testing phase (2000-2004); about 3 million housing units per year when fully implemented (planned for 2005). Data are collected from about one-twelfth of the sample each month.

Current Population Survey: Annual sample size is about 100,000 addresses.

Data Collection Method

American Community Survey: Mail, telephone, and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. About half the responses are obtained by mail. When fully implemented, the ACS will include Puerto Rico. The ACS is a mandatory survey.

Current Population Survey: Telephone and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CPS is a voluntary survey.

Residency Status

American Community Survey: The ACS includes people at the address where they are at the time of the survey if they have been there, or will be there, more than 2 months, whether or not they have a "usual residence elsewhere."

Current Population Survey: The CPS sample unit’s householder (one of the people in whose name the unit is rented or owned) must consider the unit to be his or her place of usual residence (where he or she spends most of the time during the year) to be counted as an occupied unit, which is traditional in most censuses and housing surveys. If a family has more than one home, the interviewer has to determine if the sample unit is its usual residence.

Population Universe

American Community Survey: The testing phase of the ACS includes the household population. This universe includes both the civilian and military population in households and excludes the group quarters population. When fully implemented, the ACS will include both the household and the group quarters populations (that is, the resident population). The group quarters population consists of the institutionalized (such as people in correctional institutions or nursing homes) and the noninstitutionalized (most of whom are in college dormitories). The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of July 1 (e.g., July 1, 2003 for the 2003 ACS).

Current Population Survey: The CPS includes the civilian noninstitutionalized population. This universe includes civilians in households, people in noninstitutional group quarters (other than military barracks) and military in households living off post or with their families on post (as long as at least one household member is a civilian adult). The universe excludes other military in households and in group quarters (barracks), and people living in institutions. The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of March 1 (e.g., March 1, 2004 for the 2004 CPS ASEC).

Question Detail

American Community Survey: In 2002, respondents in the ACS were allowed to report one or more races, consistent with Census 2000. In both the 2002 ACS and Census 2000, respondents could report one or more of the following six race categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and "Some other race." Respondents who responded to the question on race by indicating only one race are referred to as the single-race population. Those individuals who reported more than one of the above race groups are referred to as the Two-or-More-Races population. The sum of the single-race or one-race population plus the Two-or-More-Races population equals the total population. Individuals who reported more than one of the six different race groups are referred to as the in combination population. For example, respondents who reported they were White and American Indian and Alaska Native are included in the White alone or in any combination population as well as the American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in any combination population. The alone or in any combination population is a tally of the number of times a particular race was mentioned and therefore will add to more than the total population.

Current Population Survey: The 2002 CPS uses the 1990 census question on race that does not allow for more than one race reporting.

The 2003 CPS uses the Census 2000 question on race that allows for more than one race reporting, but does not include the Census 2000 "Some Other Race" category. Responses of "Some Other Race" are not allowed in the 2003 CPS.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Race |  Last Revised: 2012-05-24T14:58:54.956-04:00