American Community Survey Questions Review | Legit or Scam

American Community Survey Questions

Annually, the U.S. Census Bureau reaches out to more than 3.5 million households nationwide, inviting their participation in answering the American Community Survey questions.

Your active involvement in the survey contributes significantly to the generation of high-quality data, thereby playing a crucial role in shaping decisions that impact your community positively.

Should your household have received communication from the Census Bureau, and you wish to gain a deeper understanding of the questions posed in the American Community Survey, kindly peruse this article in its entirety.

Let’s get started!

What is the American Community Survey (ACS)?

The American Community Survey (ACS) stands as a household survey innovatively created by the Census Bureau, serving as a substitute for the extended version of the decennial census program. This expansive demographic survey is conducted year-round, encompassing approximately 3.5 million addresses on an annual basis.

Initiated in 2005, the ACS has been instrumental in generating data about social, housing, and economic characteristics for demographic groups residing in areas with populations of 65,000 or more.

Furthermore, the ACS strategically accumulates sample cases at 5-year intervals, allowing for the derivation of estimates for smaller geographic areas, such as census tracts and block groups.

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What Estimates are Produced by the ACS?

The subjects addressed within the American Community Survey questions closely mirror those examined in the census long-form survey data. This comprehensive survey yields estimates encompassing demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics.

The accessibility of data for various geographic areas is contingent upon population size. Specifically, 1-year estimates are accessible for regions with populations exceeding 65,000, whereas 5-year estimates are made available for all areas.

(It’s noteworthy that three-year estimates were formerly generated for areas with populations of 20,000 or more during the 2011-13 period.)

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Does the ACS Develop Labor Force Estimates?

Certainly, the American Community Survey encompasses questions related to employment and job search, facilitating the inclusion of measures gauging labor force activity.

This, in conjunction with the diverse array of social and economic data gathered through the survey, provides a comprehensive understanding of various aspects of community life.

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How does the ACS Compare with the Current Population Survey?

The Monthly Current Population Survey (CPS), a collaborative effort between the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Census Bureau, entails a monthly sampling of approximately 60,000 households.

Its primary purpose is to swiftly generate current monthly employment and unemployment data, along with annual figures on income and poverty for the nation. The CPS monthly employment and unemployment estimates are typically accessible within a few weeks of the conclusion of the reference period.

In contrast, the American Community Survey (ACS) provides 1-year employment and unemployment estimates approximately nine months after the conclusion of the reference year, while 5-year estimates are typically released in early December of the subsequent year. Notably, the ACS does not furnish monthly estimates.

The Monthly CPS estimates play a pivotal role in the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program conducted by the BLS, serving as a fundamental input for generating official labor force statistics for states and local areas.

Discrepancies between employment and unemployment estimates from the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey may arise due to variations in survey questions, samples, and data collection methods employed by each.

How does the ACS Reference Period Relate to the Reference Period in the CPS?

The reference period for the Current Population Survey (CPS) typically spans the week inclusive of the 12th of the month, with interviews carried out in the subsequent week (usually the week encompassing the 19th of the month).

Monthly production and publication of CPS data are standard, and annual average data are compiled at the close of the calendar year. Notably, the CPS adheres to a fixed reference period, a departure from the American Community Survey (ACS), where respondents base their answers on the week preceding their survey participation.

CPS interviews are systematically conducted within a designated week each month. In contrast, respondents participating in the ACS provide answers at varying times throughout the month and year. American Community Survey participants receive initial contact through mail.

In the event of non-response within a month of survey receipt, a follow-up by phone ensues. For approximately 1 in 3 households that still refrain from providing answers, a sub-sample is selected for an in-person interview during the third month.

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Are there Differences in the Labor Force Estimates from the ACS and the CPS?

Certainly. For the year 2022, the American Community Survey (ACS) identified a greater number of individuals in the U.S. as “employed” and “unemployed” compared to the official estimates from the Current Population Survey (CPS).

Conversely, the ACS categorized fewer individuals as “not in the labor force” in contrast to the CPS official estimate. Notably, the ACS-based unemployment rate stood at 4.3 percent, surpassing the CPS annual average of 3.6 percent.

Are there Differences in the Labor Force Estimates from the ACS and the LAUS Program?

Certainly. In the year 2022, the American Community Survey (ACS) reported higher numbers of employed individuals in comparison to the estimates from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) in 42 states and the District of Columbia, while 8 states exhibited lower figures.

The variations in employment levels spanned from +6.8 percent in South Carolina to -2.5 percent in West Virginia, with an average difference of +2.0 percent.

Regarding ACS-based unemployment levels, they surpassed the corresponding LAUS estimates in 45 states and the District of Columbia and were lower in 5 states. The discrepancies in unemployment levels ranged from +73.9 percent in Alabama to -4.0 percent in Wisconsin, with an average difference of +20.1 percent.

Furthermore, the ACS-based unemployment rates were higher than the corresponding LAUS estimates in 42 states and the District of Columbia, lower in 5 states, and consistent in 3 states. The disparities in unemployment rates ranged from +1.7 percentage points in both Alabama and Louisiana to -0.3 points in Ohio.

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What Accounts for the Differences between ACS and CPS-LAUS Estimates?

Various factors contribute to the disparities in estimates, encompassing differences in the questionnaires, varying criteria in the surveys regarding an individual’s active job search, and distinctions in reference periods, collection methods, and population controls.

The foundational concepts and definitions guiding the development of labor force data within the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program align with those of the Current Population Survey (CPS).

Monthly estimates for all states and the District of Columbia employ estimating equations rooted in time-series and regression techniques, constituting “signal-plus-noise” models. These models amalgamate contemporary and historical data from the CPS, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, and state unemployment insurance (UI) systems.

A tiered estimation approach is implemented, commencing with model-based estimates for the nine census divisions, which geographically cover the entire nation and solely utilize inputs from the CPS. These divisional estimates are benchmarked against the national levels of employment and unemployment each month.

Subsequently, the benchmarked division model estimate serves as the benchmark for individual states within the division, ensuring that the aggregated state estimates of unemployment and employment align with the national estimates for these parameters.

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What are the Questionnaire Differences?

The questions within the American Community Survey about labor force activity exhibit a lesser degree of intricacy compared to those found in the Current Population Survey (CPS).

Notably, while the American Community Survey employs seven questions to ascertain labor force status, the CPS utilizes sixteen, incorporating more detailed and probing queries concerning employment status. It is noteworthy that CPS information is consistently gathered by trained interviewers and never through mail questionnaires.

Since 2008, the American Community Survey questionnaire has undergone modifications aimed at refining and enhancing existing questions across various subject areas. Specifically, the labor force questions were revised to more effectively capture data related to employment status.

These alterations had the consequence of elevating the estimated number of employed individuals in the ACS when juxtaposed with the estimates from the CPS and Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS).

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How do the Job Search Questions Differ?

The American Community Survey questions inquire whether individuals are actively seeking employment and available for job offers, but do not delve into the specifics of their job search activities.

In contrast, the Current Population Survey questionnaire explores whether individuals are actively involved in job-seeking activities such as job interviewing or contacting potential employers, as opposed to passively seeking employment, such as perusing want ads in newspapers.

Within the CPS framework, an individual is categorized as unemployed only if they affirmatively indicate engagement in one or more active methods of job search.

How can the ACS Rolling Reference Period affect the Estimates?

Responses to the American Community Survey questions can pertain to any given week throughout the year, capturing diverse economic events. Respondents have the option to postpone the completion of the ACS form, contributing to flexibility in data reporting.

The American Community Survey adopts a dynamic approach to data collection, with the reference point being the “last week” whenever the respondent completes the survey.

In contrast, the Current Population Survey (CPS) adheres to a fixed reference period, typically encompassing the calendar week that includes the 12th of the month.

The varying reference week and the timing of data collection can pose challenges, particularly for brief, transient statuses or activities susceptible to seasonal fluctuations.

For instance, unemployment represents a condition affected by both seasonal and cyclical variations.

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What is the Mode-of-Collection Effect?

The method of data collection can also impact labor force estimates. In the case of the Current Population Survey (CPS), all interviews are carried out either through in-person visits or telephone calls by Census Bureau field representatives utilizing computers for data entry.

On the other hand, American Community Survey data primarily undergo collection via the Internet, facilitated by a self-administered questionnaire.

In instances where a household fails to respond within a month of the initial invitation to utilize the web instrument, a “paper and pencil” questionnaire is dispatched to the household.

Personal visits may be employed as a follow-up in cases of nonresponse to both the Internet and mail form options. Data gathered through self-administered methods lack the advantage of interviewers aiding respondents in interpreting the questions.

Does the LAUS Program Utilize ACS Data in its Estimating Procedures?

Certainly. Indeed, the 2015 redesign of the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program incorporated changes in several substate estimation inputs.

Traditionally, these inputs were derived from the decennial long-form survey, last conducted for Census 2000. The recent update involved integrating inputs developed from the American Community Survey’s 5-year estimates.

For additional details on the 2015 LAUS program redesign, you can access information at

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Where can one Obtain More Information about the ACS?

Additional details can be found on the official website of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. ACS data can be accessed and downloaded via the platform.


What is the American Community Survey summary?

The American Community Survey (ACS) helps local officials, community leaders, and businesses understand the changes taking place in their communities. It is the premier source for detailed population and housing information about our nation.

What happens if I don’t do the American Community Survey?

Those who do not answer the ACS risk repeated overtures—by mail, by phone, and in-person—from Census Bureau employees seeking to compel a response. Typically, the Census Bureau will telephone those who do not respond to the survey and may visit their homes to coerce the targets to respond.

What is the American Community Survey summary?

The American Community Survey (ACS) helps local officials, community leaders, and businesses understand the changes taking place in their communities. It is the premier source for detailed population and housing information about our nation.

What is the sample size of the American Community survey?

The ACS has an annual sample size of about 3.5 million addresses, with survey information collected nearly every day of the year.

Is the American Community Survey based on a sample of a population?

The ACS estimates are based on data from a sample of housing units and people in the population, not the full population. For this reason, ACS estimates have a degree of uncertainty associated with them, called sampling error.


When it comes to the American Community Survey questions, it’s essential to approach them with an open mind and a critical eye. While some may question the legitimacy of certain inquiries, it’s crucial to recognize that the survey plays a vital role in understanding our diverse communities and shaping public policies.

Instead of dismissing it as a scam, we should appreciate the effort to gather valuable data that helps improve our understanding of society and contributes to better-informed decision-making.

It’s an opportunity for each of us to actively participate in building a more accurate and inclusive picture of the American community.


  • – American Community Survey (ACS) Questions and Answers
  • – What to know about the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey