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What Is the American Community Survey?

2 minute read

The American Community Survey offers a treasure trove of social, economic, housing and demographic data.


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The American Community Survey (AC) is a data collection and dissemination program of the U.S. Census Bureau that provides annually updated information on key indicators about life in the United States.

As an annual survey process, the ACS collects and disseminates data that would otherwise only be available through the decennial (every ten years) Census process completed in years ending in zero as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Importantly, the ACS expands beyond the simple enumeration of the decennial Census process, providing much of the most authoritative information central to the practice and theory of planning—indicators like housing costs, commute mode, income levels, and educational attainment, to name just a few, key examples. 

The ACS survey gathers responses from about 3.5 million addresses from all 50 states and Puerto Rico every year. In total, the survey collects data on more than 40 topics. 

In addition to informing the planning decisions of organizations in both the private and public sectors, data collected in the annual ACS survey process are also used to determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.

The American Community Survey program was launched in 2005, replacing a decennial long-form version of the U.S. Census questionnaire and moving to an annual survey process. The new data platform now offers several ways to access and organize ACS data, which is updated every year. In 2020, the ACS celebrated a significant benchmark in completing a third set of five-year data, allowing new comparisons between five-year periods in the recent history of the United States.


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