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American Community Survey

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Sample Size - Definitions

1. How large is the sample?

The full implementation of the ACS, which began in 2005, originally sampled approximately 2.9 million housing unit addresses annually stateside. In 2011 the ACS sampled approximately 3.3 million housing unit addresses - this corresponds to an increase in the targeted annual sample size of 3.54 million addresses that began with the June 2011 ACS sample. The 2012 ACS sample is approximately 3.54 million housing unit addresses. The PRCS samples approximately 36,000 housing unit addresses each year in Puerto Rico.

The full implementation of the ACS and PRCS Group Quarters data collection began in 2006. There are approximately 200,000 persons in the group quarters sample each calendar year in the ACS.

The ACS sampled between 740,000 and 900,000 housing unit addresses annually in 2000 through 2004.

2. What is sampling error?

The ACS estimates are based on data from a sample of housing units and people in the population, not the full population. For this reason, ACS estimates have a degree of uncertainty associated with them, called sampling error. In general, the larger the sample, the smaller the level of sampling error.

3. Why is it important to measure sampling error?

The estimates produced by the ACS are not exact because they are based on a sample. The sampling error measures the degree of uncertainty associated with the estimates. If the degree of uncertainty is too large, then users should be cautious in how the estimates are used.

4. How does the ACS measure sampling error

The ACS calculates standard errors for each estimate produced and publishes the 90 percent confidence level margins of error (the Census Bureau standard). You can be 90 percent confident that the interval within the margin of error from the estimate includes the true value. See Accuracy of the Data for more details on how margins of error and confidence intervals are calculated and interpreted.

5. What other numbers provide important information on the reliability of ACS estimates?

Housing Units Initial Addresses Selected - The number of addresses in each state and for the nation that were selected for the ACS sample for a particular year. Each year's sample is systematically divided into 12 monthly samples for ACS interviewing. This initial number includes addresses later determined to be commercial or nonexistent, as well as housing units that are not interviewed due to subsampling for personal visit follow-up, refusals, or other reasons.

Housing Units Final Interviews - The final number of interviews across all three modes of data collection for the ACS in a given year for the nation and by state. This number includes occupied and vacant housing units that were interviewed by mail, telephone, or personal visit methods between January 1 - December 31. It excludes addresses determined to be nonexistent or commercial, and addresses not selected in the subsample for personal visit follow-up, and addresses that are not interviewed due to refusals or other reasons.

Group Quarters People Initial Sample Selected - The number of people living in GQs that could be contacted for ACS interviewing in a given year for the nation and by state. Each year's sample is systematically divided into 12 monthly samples for ACS interviewing. This initial number includes people thought to be in group quarters that were later determined to be out of scope or nonexistent, as well as people not interviewed due to the group quarter refusing entry, the person refusing to respond, or other reasons.

Group Quarters People Actual Final Interviews - The final number of actual person interviews for the ACS for those living in group quarters in a given year for the nation and by state.

Group Quarters People Synthetic Final Interviews - The final number of synthetic person interviews for the ACS in a given year, for the nation and by state. For more information, see the User Note on synthetic interviews.

6. Are these numbers used to calculate the survey response rate?

These numbers by themselves are not used to measure the response to the request to participate in the ACS. See Survey Response Rates - Definitions for more information.

7. How does the ACS calculate these five measures of sample size?

Housing Units Initial Addresses Selected (state x, year y) = the sum of the twelve monthly housing unit address samples selected from the Master Address File for state x in year y.
Housing Units Final Interviews (state x, year y) = the sum of all housing unit interviews successfully conducted by mail, telephone, or personal visit between January 1 and December 31 of year y, in state x.
Group Quarters Initial Sample Selected (state x, year y) = the sum of expected sample persons across sample GQs in state x, year y.
Group Quarters Actual Final Interviews (state x, year y) = the sum of all actual interviews between January 1 and December 31 of year y, for state x.
Group Quarters Synthetic Final Interviews (state x, year y) = the sum of all synthetic interviews between January 1 and December 31 of year y, in state x.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | American Community Survey Office | Email ACS | Last Revised: September 19, 2013
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