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Mary Ellen Davis and Charles H. Alexander, Jr.

In a society now changing so rapidly, many people have come to view the decennial (10 year) census as too slow and, therefore, antiquated. Certainly, data from a census taken only once in a 10-year period can become stale before it is time for a recount. To counter this situation, the U.S. Bureau of the Census is already implementing plans for a process of continuous measurement as we move into the 21st century.

The plan for continuous measurement will not replace the decennial census; information obtained on what is commonly referred to as the short form will still be collected on a 10-year basis. In essence, implementing continuous measurement will replace the long form census questionnaire. The Census Bureau’s method for collecting the detailed socio-economic data (traditionally collected in the decennial census) will be reengineered and data will be provided throughout the decade.

The goal of continuous measurement is to blend the strength of small area estimation from the census with the quality and timeliness of continuing surveys. Current plans call for a continuous monthly survey covering most of the U.S. beginning in 2000. This process will then be extended to every county beginning in 2003. The survey which will be used to implement continuous measurement is called the American Community Survey or ACS.

The ACS will cover topics as determined by the decennial census content process. Over the course of each year, three million different addresses will be selected for interview.

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