The American Community Survey

The third American Community Survey (ACS) Data Users Conference took place May 11th and 12th, 2017, at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. The meeting, organized by the Population Reference Bureau, brought the ACS data users together to discuss research, trends, resources, and analysis. Sent to 3.5 million addresses each year, the ACS is an ongoing survey designed to produce detailed, small area estimates on population and housing and disseminated in one-year and five-year estimates. This is in contrast to the decennial census, taken every 10 years, which provides official counts and reflects only a single point in time. The ACS covers four main topics areas; social variables such as citizenship status, place of birth, and veteran status; demographic variables like age, race, sex; economic variables like commuting and place of work, health insurance coverage, and poverty status; and housing variables, including occupancy/vacancy status, vehicles available, and computer and internet use. These examples are only a subset of the 35+ topics that comprise 1,000 tables and 11 billion estimates. The ACS data are available at a number of geographic levels from the national level down to the block group level, to cover a total of 930,000 geographic areas.
These are some of the highlights of the conference as I saw them:
  • My session on our Social Determinants of Health Mapper;
  • Learning about the American Community Survey Office (ACSO) which publishes papers and has about 300 reports on the research that they conduct using ACS data;
  • The ACS is continuously re-evaluated and retested and to improve response rate and respondent experience, including removing questions and potentially moving to a more laid back tone; and
  • They are considering adding an open-ended question that allows the respondent to share anything else they think is important.
For people like me, who regularly consume these data to put into the HealthLandscape tools, I was most interested to learn is that there is an effort underway to improve the way Census products are delivered.  Also present, was a representative from the Center for Enterprise Dissemination Services and Consumer Innovation (CEDSCI), which looks at transforming and improving the way Census products are delivered. One of the key takeaways from their talk was that they’re aiming at making the data experience much like shopping with Amazon.  Users will add data to a shopping cart and based on the search and selection, recommendations for other datasets and products will be provided. We also saw a beta version of a new Census site (, which will help them to transition from many dissemination platforms to a single site.
HealthLandscape has been using ACS 5-year estimates since the first set of data was released. These data are used in various tools including Community HealthView, the Social Determinants of Health Mapper, the Population Health Mapper, and the UDS Mapper. With each new ACS release, HealthLandscape processes a selection of tables for inclusion in these mapping tools at the state, county, census tract, ZCTA, and block group levels.
These tools can be accessed at:
For more about our mapping tools we invite you to attend one of our free webinars where you can learn how to use them. You can find an upcoming webinar and register to attend here:
We cover the data included and we welcome your questions in these interactive forums.
Dave Grolling
GIS Strategist


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