Why the ACS Was Developed
by Preston J. Waite, former Deputy Director of the U.S. Census Bureau
For decades, the long-form sample from the decennial census served as the only source of detailed social and demographic statistics for small areas and population groups in the United States. The long-form sample, however, had two major shortcomings.
First, since the information was collected as part of the census count, it was an added burden to the selected respondents and complicated the data collection effort by the Census Bureau. By 1990, the mail response rate for long-form recipients had dropped significantly below the rate for short-form recipients, increasing the costs of nonresponse follow-up (NRFU) and degrading the quality of the long-form data. In addition, because the census count is the Census Bureau’s top priority, the editing, processing, and tabulation of long-form data had to take a back seat to the full count enumeration, delaying the release of long-form data for two or three years after the actual enumeration.
Second, perhaps the biggest drawback of the census long-form sample is that the data were collected only once every ten years. The sample provided a snapshot of one point in time for the decade and quickly became out-of-date in many communities throughout the nation. Couple this with the delay in release of the long-form data, and it became increasingly apparent that an alternative to the census long form was needed.
Read how the ACS was developed. © CQ Press 2011