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Comparing 2012-2016 ACS 5-year and 2017-2021 ACS 5-year

When comparing the 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates with other non-overlapping ACS 5-year estimates, there are several points to consider:

  • Change in geographic boundaries - The geographic boundaries for the 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates represent the boundaries as of January 1, 2021. Data users should be aware of changes in geographic boundaries when making comparisons.  For more information on geographic concepts used in the ACS, visit Geography and the ACS.
  • Change in the questionnaire or coding - The list below provides details by subject for major questionnaire or coding changes.
  • Changes to the population controls - The 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates use population controls that are informed by the 2020 Census. For guidance regarding the population controls for this data release, refer to Population Controls for the 2021 ACS. For more information about how the population estimates are used as controls for the ACS, visit the 2017-2021 ACS Multiyear Accuracy of the Data document.
  • For guidance on issues with specific geographies or methodological changes, visit the Errata Notes and User Notes pages.

Data users should use caution when comparing  ACS 5-year estimates that include 2020 with other ACS 5-year data. There are multiple challenges to interpreting comparisons, including:

Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Use caution when comparing Race from the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates.  Differences between the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates and 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates may be the result of demographic changes and/or differences in question wording, race reporting, or coding updates.  For more information, visit the ACS Race User Note: Improvements to the Race Question

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Use caution when comparing Hispanic origin from the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates. Differences between the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates and 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates may be the result of demographic changes and/or differences in question wording, Hispanic origin reporting, or coding updates.  For more information, visit the ACS Hispanic Origin User Note: Improvements to the Hispanic Origin Question.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Methodological changes to citizenship edits may have affected citizenship data for those born in American Samoa. Users should be aware of these changes when using 2018 data or multi-year data containing data from 2018. For more information, visit: American Samoa Citizenship User Note.

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Modest changes have been made to the region and country groupings. For the 2014 ACS South Sudan (code 463) was added as an eligible place of birth, please view the 2014 ACS Code List. For the 2017 ACS, St. Martin (code 349) was added as an eligible place of birth, please visit the 2017 ACS Code List. These changes do not limit comparing most 2012-2016 ACS 5-year and 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Beginning in 2019, the Census Bureau implemented changes to selected means of transportation categories based on results of the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) Content Test. While the category labels have changed, the categories are considered comparable. Please refer to the 2019 Changes to the Means of Transportation Question Data User Note for comparability guidance.

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Use caution when comparing the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates. The 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates contained expanded “husband/wife” and “unmarried partner” categories that included separate categories for opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Additionally, the “roomer or boarder” category was removed. For additional information regarding changes to the Relationship to Householder item, please visit the Same-Sex Couples page. Further, the 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates used a joint age, sex, and relationship edit, while the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates used a joint relationship/marital status edit.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Use caution when comparing the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates. The 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates contained expanded “husband/wife” and “unmarried partner” categories that included separate categories for opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Additionally, the “roomer or boarder” category was removed. For additional information regarding changes to the Relationship to Householder item, please visit the Same-Sex Couples page. Further, the 2017-2021 ACS used a joint age, sex, and relationship edit, while the 2012-2016 ACS used a joint relationship/marital status edit. These edits are used to determine categories of family types.

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Use caution when comparing marital status from the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates. The 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates used a separate marital status edit, while the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates used a joint relationship/marital status edit.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Use caution when making comparisons between the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates and 2017-2021 ACS 5-year estimates of spoken languages and English-speaking ability.  Some languages need additional steps for comparison. Please refer to the 2016 Language Data User Note for comparability guidance.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Use caution when comparing 2012-2016 to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year income estimates.  To accurately assess changes in income over time, an adjustment for inflation is required.

  • Estimates in the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year data set are inflation-adjusted to 2016 dollars.
  • Estimates in the 2017-2021 ACS 5-year data set are inflation-adjusted to 2021 dollars.

The Census Bureau uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Consumer Price Index Retroactive Series (R-CPI-U-RS, R-CPI-U-RS formerly the CPI-U-RS) to adjust for inflation. The annual average R-CPI-U-RS for 2021 (399.0) is divided by the same for 2016 (353.4) to determine the multiplier to inflation-adjust 2016 dollars to 2021 dollars. Accordingly, dollar value estimates from the 2012-2016 file should be multiplied by 1.12903226 to convert 2016 dollars to 2021 dollars. The exception is the Comparative Economic Characteristics Profile (CP03) where all income and earnings dollar values are presented in 2021 inflation-adjusted dollars. For more information on comparing multiyear estimates from two different time periods, refer to Chapter 10  of the ACS Manual 'Understanding and Using American Community Survey Data: What All Data Users Need to Know'.

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Use caution when comparing 2012-2016 to 2017-2021 ACS 5-year earnings estimates. To accurately assess changes in income over time, an adjustment for inflation is required. Refer to Income (19) above for guidance regarding inflation-adjusting dollar value estimates.

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In 2013, the veteran status question was modified. As a result, we recommend using caution when comparing the 2017-2021 estimates to estimates from 2012-2016 of the veteran population or any earlier ACS 5-year data.  For more information, visit the Veterans Statistics webpage.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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The 2011 to 2012 ACS industry data was coded using the 2007 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The ACS industry data for 2013 to 2017 years was coded based on the 2012 revision of the NAICS codes. The 2018 ACS industry data and later years are based on the 2017 revision of the NAICS codes. To allow for the creation of 2017-2021 tables, industry data for data year2017 in the multiyear file was recoded to 2017 Census industry codes. Because of the NAICS revisions and Census industry code changes, we recommend using caution when comparing 2017-2021 industry data with 2012-2016 industry data. For more information on Census industry code changes, please visit the Industry and Occupation website.

The Census occupation codes for 2018 and later data years are based on the 2018 revision of the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC). To allow for the creation of 2017-2021 tables, occupation data for data year2017 in the multiyear file was recoded to 2018 Census occupation codes. The 2012-2016 ACS 5-year occupation data was based on the 2010 revision of the SOC. There were significant changes to the Census occupation codes as a result of the 2018 SOC revisions. Therefore, the 2012-2016 and 2017-2021 occupation data are not comparable. For more information on the Census occupation code changes, please visit the Industry and Occupation website.

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Telephone service data should be compared with caution between 2012-2016 and 2017-2021. In 2017, a consistency check was added to the telephone service edit to better determine households with telephone service. Furthermore, beginning in 2019 the telephone service question was revised in its structure and wording as a result of findings from the 2016 ACS Content Test. For more information on this change, view the following ACS User Note. In general, these changes led to an increase in households with telephone service during the 2017-2021 period compared to the 2012-2016 period.

Mortgage status data compared between 2012-2016 and 2017-2021 should be done with caution. In 2020, changes were made to allow those listed without a primary mortgage to have a home equity loan. In previous years, anyone with a home equity loan would have been categorized as having a primary mortgage. 

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data from 2012-2016 are comparable to 2017-2021.

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Data was not available prior to 2013. Therefore, the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates are not available. For more information about computer and internet use questions in the ACS and other Census Bureau surveys, visit the Computer and Internet Use website.

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Data was not available prior to 2014. Therefore, the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates are not available. 

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