The Center for Community Solutions uses data from the American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in nearly every research project we conduct. As we’ve written in the past, we consider ACS to be the gold standard for reliable, relevant data on a host of community conditions. Since 2005, we’ve been spoiled by annual data releases… until this year.
Since 2005, we’ve been spoiled by annual data releases… until this year.
Visitors to data.census.gov are greeted with this notice:
What does this mean for our ability to use Census Bureau data to analyze community conditions? What about organizations that rely on updated population counts to plan services, assess needs, and allocate resources?
There are a couple ways that Community Solutions will deal with the problem. First, we are forced to be patient. The past several years, 1-year estimates for bigger geographies such as the state, larger counties, and big cities have come out in September. Now we’ll have to wait until late November, and some things just may not be available.
Also delayed are the 5-year estimates which include data for geographies down to Census tract, many more indicators broken down by race, gender, and age, and carry smaller margins of error. These were reliably available in mid-December, but the Census Bureau has delayed release until March. Until then, we are forced to rely on data collected pre-pandemic. We’re keeping the delay in mind when working with our consulting clients and planning publications for 2022, including the popular community fact sheets.
In the meantime, we are using the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data to try to get a sense of current conditions.
Second, we’ll need to skip a year for some of the analysis we typically conduct. Community Solutions usually use the ACS 1-year data to find out where Cleveland ranks among big cities in terms of poverty (ICYMI: we’re last) and for reporting some other indicators for large geographies. There are always margins of error and statistically significant changes are rare in year-to-year data. But the annual statistics give us an indication of the direction things might be heading. We’re all just going to need to wait another year until the 2021 estimates are released and use those to compare to 2019.
In the meantime, we are using the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data to try to get a sense of current conditions. Household Pulse is also experimental, less reliable than ACS, and only available for states, not cities or counties. But it is being released a few times each month and asks questions which are most relevant to current events. Household Pulse is often the data source for our Infographics. So we do have some fairly reliable, very timely data about current conditions.
All indications are that the 5-year estimates for 2016-2020 will meet the Census Bureau’s rigorous standards, despite the fact that collection last year was compromised.
Finally, all indications are that the 5-year estimates for 2016-2020 will meet the Census Bureau’s rigorous standards, despite the fact that collection last year was compromised. Margins of error may be larger than usual because of added statistical uncertainty. But grouping 5 years of data collection together always smooths things out and the 5-year estimates are more reliable. For at least the next year, Community Solutions will be using the 5-year estimates except in very rare instances.
The Census Bureau has put out a helpful decision tree for organizations and agencies which rely on their data.
Community Solutions’ research team is always available to advise about indicators, sources, and discuss data reliability, so please reach out if you have questions. In the meantime, we’ll continue to put out the most reliable information as quickly as we can.