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Academic researchers have mined decennial census data on a variety of topics with geographic perspectives ranging from neighborhoods to the nation. The American Community Survey (ACS) is the new source for detailed demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics. The Census Bureau is discontinuing the decennial long-form sample in the 2010 Census. For more information about the decennial census long form, review the text box on this page. The ACS is not simply a replacement, but rather a different kind of survey, utilizing continuous measurement approaches and a rolling sample. This handbook is aimed at three groups of academic researchers:

  • Those who are familiar with the data files from the decennial census long form and are looking to continue their research with the ACS.

  • Those who are familiar with using data—summary tabulations and microdata records—from complex sample surveys, although not necessarily decennial census data.

  • Those who are learning about research methods and analysis of data from sample surveys—such as graduate students in methods classes. The materials in this handbook are no substitute for a methods course where analysis of secondary data from sample surveys is dealt with, along with the concepts of survey methodology and statistics for sampling. The handbook should, however, serve as an excellent supplementary text in such courses.

This handbook is intended to acquaint researchers with issues that may affect their analysis of ACS data. We have included case studies to illustrate uses of the ACS and exercises for readers to practice accessing and analyzing ACS data. The handbook does not cover all the issues of survey design and methodology associated with the ACS.

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