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Fact Sheet: Differences between the Income and Poverty Estimates from The American Community Survey and The Annual Social Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey - August 26, 2008

The American Community Survey (ACS) is currently the largest household survey in the United States. The ACS is part of the 2010 Decennial Census Program and will eliminate the need for a long-form sample questionnaire. The ACS offers broad, comprehensive information on social, economic, and housing data and is designed to provide this information at many levels of geography, particularly for local communities. With full implementation in 2005, the ACS is now producing annual estimates for geographic areas with populations of 65,000 or more. Beginning in 2008, the ACS will release data for geographic areas with populations between 20,000 and 64,999 using data collected over the three-year period 2005 to 2007. Beginning in 2010, the ACS will use five-year period estimates to provide estimates for all areas down to census tracts/block groups.

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 chart summarizes the key differences between the ACS and the CPS:

  American Community Survey Current Population Survey
Principal purpose Provides detailed demographic, socioeconomic and housing data on an annual basis; replaces the once-a-decade census long form.  Provides median household and other measures of money income, earnings and poverty estimates. Provides estimates of median household and other measures of money income, health insurance coverage and the official annual estimate of poverty for the nation.
Time frame Data collected continuously throughout calendar year with a previous 12-month reference period. Data collected over a three-month period (February, March, and April) with a previous calendar year reference.
Geography Single-year estimates provide data for the nation, states, counties, places (cities), congressional districts, American Indian and Alaska Native areas and all areas with a population of 65,000 or more. Nation and states.
Sample size 250,000 addresses each month or about 3 million addresses a year.
100,000 addresses over a three-month period.
Collection method Mail, phone or personal visit. Phone or personal visit.
Length and detail of questions A series of eight questions about income. A series of questions about more than 50 sources of income and up to 27 individual income values.
Group quarters in sample Yes (institutional and noninstitutional group quarters). Yes (noninstitutional group quarters only).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Income |  Last Revised: September 13, 2011