TitleThe American Community Survey in counties with "seasonal" populations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsHammer, RB, Auken, P, Voss, P, Veroff, D
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Pagination275 - 292
Date Published2006
ISBN Number0167-5923

The U.S. Census Bureau designed the American Community Survey (ACS) to provide annual estimates of social and economic characteristics for states, counties, municipalities, census tracts, and block groups. Because of its April 1 reference date, in northern nonmetropolitan counties with substantial seasonal population fluctuations the decennial census provides a statistical representation of the demographic and social characteristics of the population at a time when the population is close to its annual minimum. The year-round monthly ACS sample survey has the potential to provide local communities with an unprecedented understanding of the average population characteristics over the course of a year. In the future, the ACS even has the potential for providing social and economic characteristics of the population by season. This paper examines four ACS pilot data collection counties, Oneida and Vilas Counties in northern Wisconsin, and Lake and Flathead Counties in northwest Montana. We hypothesize that the ACS will reflect a resident population over the course of the year that is different from the traditional April 1 decennial census population. While the ACS holds much promise, our research uncovered some sampling problems that are not yet fully resolved. In addition, our analysis was not able to examine ACS estimates for minor civil divisions (MCDs), which are functioning governmental units in many states. The fact that these MCDs often have very small populations, together with the fact that estimated standard errors at the much larger census tract level in these counties are disconcertingly large, raises (currently unanswerable) questions concerning the eventual statistical quality of ACS estimates for small MCDs. Consequently, the adequacy of the ACS as a replacement for the census long form may depend on the ability of the Census Bureau to effectively address the concerns presented in this analysis.