First look at pandemic impacts with 2016-2020 ACS data

When was the last time you had 213 topics from the American Community Survey (ACS) at your fingertips in three business days?

The US Census Bureau extended the release date from December 2021 to March 2022 so they had additional time to review their methodology for non-response bias and determined “the standard, full suite of 2016–2020 ACS 5-year data are fit for public release, government and business uses.”

Metopio’s data team curated 2016-2020 5-year estimates from this critical survey and released them to our subscribers on our platform.

Take a look at work from home as a trend over time. This topic will be one to watch in future surveys to see if this is a permanent shift in the workforce or not.

Why is the American Community Survey important?

Unlike the Decennial Census which is conducted once every 10 years, the American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about people and communities across the United States.

When Congress authorized the government to conduct a national census back in 1790, James Madison ensured it included the authority to collect additional information beyond the population count in order to “enable [future legislators] to adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community.”*

Information from this survey gives us a look at employment, education, veterans, housing and health among other topics and generates data that help determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.

What to know about ACS 2016-2020 5-year estimates …

Five year not one year

The Census Bureau did not release standard 1-year estimates from the 2020 ACS survey because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on data collection. However, 2020 data is reflected in the recently released 2016-2020 5-year estimate. 

Rolling averages

The 5-year rolling estimates are not designed to measure rapid change during short periods because the data come from a 5-year period. Instead, analyzing the data over a period of years can remove the noise of an anomaly such as the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and help you focus on the long-term trends. 

Comparing data

We recommend using caution when comparing 2016-2020 5-year estimates to early ACS data. As a best practice, when comparing 2016–2020 5-year estimates to earlier ACS data use this framework –

  • Yes! Compare non-overlapping datasets. For example, look at 2005-2009 ACS 5-year estimates and compare them to 2010-2014 data.
  • Yes! Compare ACS 5-year estimates with 2010 or 2020 Census data.
  • No! Do not compare overlapping datasets. For example, do not use 2005-2009 ACS 5-year estimates and compare them with 2006-2010 data. Instead view them as a trend over time.

Future surveys

Since ACS is conducted every month of every year, it will slowly get more accurate over the time and we hope the disruption will be gone or at least minimized in the 2022-2026 dataset but this will be dependent on other variables.

Metopio can help

Metopio provides curated, verified data and ridiculously easy tools to understand populations and places you care about. Adding valuable community context to any analysis gives you an edge when understanding a place, the people that live there and the impact you can have.

*Summary of debate on Census Bill, House of Representatives, 25–26 Jan., 2 Feb. 1790. (The Founders’ Constitution, 1987, University of Chicago, Volume 2, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, Document 19).

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