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U.S. Census Bureau
Component ID: #ti865851391

The American Community Survey Operations Plan (the Plan) identifies and documents the individual components of the American Community Survey (ACS) and describes projects associated with making the transition from a demonstration program to a production survey. The Plan is intended to serve as a reference manual, and to assist communication and understanding about the ACS Program within and outside the Census Bureau. A glossary of ACS abbreviations and acronyms is attached.

This document is denominated as “Release 1,” as the Census Bureau anticipates re-publishing the Plan periodically to reflect design and operational developments.

The goals of the ACS are to:

  • Provide federal, state, and local governments an information base for the administration and evaluation of government programs.
  • Facilitate improvement of the 2010 Census by allowing the decennial census to focus on counting the population.
  • Provide data users with timely demographic, housing, social, and economic statistics updated every year that can be compared across states, communities, and population groups.

The American Community Survey is a new approach for collecting reliable, timely information needed for critical government functions. The ACS was designed to replace the decennial census long form and will collect the detailed demographic, socioeconomic, and housing statistics traditionally collected on the long form. Full implementation of the ACS will facilitate improvement of the 2010 Census by allowing the decennial census to focus on counting the population.

The decennial census long form was historically sent to about 17 percent of households. The size of the long form sample was selected to produce reliable estimates for small areas. The ACS will also produce reliable estimates for small areas, but data will be collected continuously. With full implementation, the ACS sample will include about 3 million addresses nationwide each year. The ACS sample will also include 2.5 percent of the Group Quarters Population and about 36,000 addresses in Puerto Rico. 4 Although the statistics from any individual year of ACS data collection may not provide reliable estimates for the smallest areas, multi-year averages will produce reliable, useful, and timely statistics to replace the long form.

When fully implemented, the ACS will provide reliable yearly estimates of demographic, housing, social, and economic characteristics for all states, as well as for all cities, counties, metropolitan areas, and population groups of 65,000 or more people. For smaller areas, such as census tracts, three to five years of data will be necessary to accumulate sufficient sample to produce reliable estimates. Areas of 20,000 or more people can use data averaged over three years, and areas of less than 20,000 people (such as census tracts, rural areas, small towns, and some American Indian Reservations) will require data averaged over five years. These multi-year averages will be updated every year, to give data users measures of change over time, including for small areas and population groups.

As with the decennial census and all household surveys conducted by the Census Bureau, all response information received from respondents is confidential; only information that meets disclosure protection requirements is publicly released.  

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