The American Community Survey – The Big Data Source for Information about your Community

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Written by: Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg

For just the third time, today we released the American Community Survey five-year estimates, which are for 2007-2011. These annual five-year estimates, represent a major statistical innovation in that they provide detailed economic, social, demographic, and housing information for over 700,000 communities, information that prior to the ACS was available only once a decade.  There is much media hype about Big Data, but the ACS five-year statistics, containing almost 11 billion estimates, deliver on the Big Data promise. They provide local communities with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Each year, approximately 2 million survey responses are collected from households. If you participated in the American Community Survey, I thank you. Your response allows us to provide the detailed information that your community uses to decide where to build new hospitals or new schools or to assess the socio-economic condition of residents. Businesses also rely on ACS statistics to identify market opportunities, assess the characteristics of the workforce and the housing stock, and make investment decisions.

Just last week, we released a data product that shows the power of the American Community Survey in action. Relying on the 2006-2010 ACS five-year estimates, we produced the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Tabulation, sponsored by four federal agencies. With more than 19 billion statistics and requiring more than 1 trillion calculations to complete, it provides a comprehensive profile of the American workforce. Without the ACS, we would not have this important resource available to organizations wishing to compare the diversity of their labor force with the diversity of the areas from which they draw their workers.

When we look at the American Community Survey five-year estimates released today, they provide new insights about the nation’s communities, including information about age distributions, educational attainment and whether residents rent or own their homes. For example, they tell us that in Sierra County, NM, 23.8 percent of households had a person 65 and older who lived alone, among the highest in the nation.

I can also look at the statistics to learn more about the community where I live. In my town of La Plata, MD, 6.5 percent of the population age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home. In addition, 28.7 percent of the population age 25 and older have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher.

I encourage you to explore these statistics and learn more about your local community. Soon it will be even easier for you to use this important data source. We continue to look for ways to make Census Bureau information more accessible and useful. I am excited to tell you about a new tool that we will be unveiling in the coming weeks and two that are already available.

Today, we updated QuickFacts with the new American Community Survey statistics, which allows you to find information about a town, county or state with just a few clicks. Today, we also released “Easy Stats,” which will allow users to build tables by selecting a desired topic and a specific geography. Early next year, we will also unveil “Dwellr,” our first mobile app that uses ACS statistics.

Besides making Census Bureau information more accessible, we are committed to providing respondents with new tools that make it easier to respond to our surveys and censuses. Beginning in mid-December (for the January 2013 panel), American Community Survey sampled households will be able to provide their survey responses online.

For more information about the American Community Survey and the estimates released today, please visit the ACS page.

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2012 Economic Census – Learn why Business-Owner Response Makes a Difference

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Written by: Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg

econ census image of business ownersWhile many of you may be familiar with the decennial census, are you aware that 2012 is the year of the next economic census? At the Census Bureau, we have been busy making preparations for this important event.

The 2012 Economic Census is under way. On October 24, approximately 500,000 classification forms were mailed to small businesses where we had incomplete information about their business operations.  These responses are used to determine the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for single-unit establishments where the Census Bureau does not have a complete NAICS code.  On October 31, we mailed economic census forms to 2,000 of our largest businesses, operating almost 750,000 individual locations. The remaining economic census forms will be mailed in mid-December.

What is the economic census?

The economic census is the U.S. Government’s official five-year measure of American business and the economy. Collected for years ending in “2” and “7,” economic census results serve as the foundation for the gross domestic product (GDP) and other indicators of economic performance. This cornerstone of  U.S. business activity  provides an essential benchmark for our nation’s economic indicators.

Many people rely on economic census data. Chambers of Commerce rely on statistics from the economic census to promote economic development in their industries and local areas. Business associations use economic census statistics for strategic planning. Businesses also use the information to research and identify new markets for their products or services. Government offices, at every level, also rely on economic statistics for making important decisions affecting cities, counties and states.

To help you learn more about the economic census, we have an updated website available that helps answer what the economic census is, why it is important, and how the data are used. is a valuable resource for business owners and business leaders to understand the vital role they play in the 2012 Economic Census. The site contains resources for respondents, such as examples of economic census forms, videos, key dates, and FAQs, and a link to our Business Help Site, with access to our electronic reporting software. also offers industry and local area snapshots with statistics from the 2007 Economic Census and links to other data tools.  By using economic census data now, you will learn why your response makes a difference for the 2012 Economic Census. And finally, for organizations interested in promoting response among their membership or readers, the site provides fact sheets, story ideas, talking points, and promotional materials to help us get the word out.

Throughout the 2012 Economic Census, I will provide updates on key milestones. Please visit and watch this blog for the latest information.

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Happy Veterans Day!

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Written by: Tom Mesenbourg, Acting Director

This Sunday we celebrate all of the brave men and women who have served our country. I had the honor to serve in the U.S. Army, and I understand the sacrifices you have endured and the contributions you have made to our country. We salute you and thank you for your service. I hope you have a happy Veterans Day.

As we celebrate our veterans, we also can learn more about them. Our American Community Survey (ACS) statistics provide a detailed portrait of those who served. Veterans Day provides an opportunity to learn more about these American heroes.

According to 2011 ACS statistics, there were 21.5 million veterans of the U.S. military, of whom 1.6 million were women. Today’s veterans are most likely to have served during the Vietnam era with 7.5 million serving, compared with the Gulf War era (from Aug. 2, 1990 to the present) with 5.1 million, World War II (1941-1945) with 1.8 million and the Korean War (1950-1953) with 2.4 million. An estimated 5.4 million served in peacetime only.

In addition to when they served, we also know the demographic characteristics of our veterans. In 2011, about 43 percent (9.2 million) of veterans were age 65 and older. At the other end of the age spectrum, about 8 percent (1.8 million) of veterans were younger than 35. About 80 percent of veterans were white, non-Hispanic, and about 7 percent were women.

In 2011, there were 3.5 million veterans with a service-connected disability, which is an injury or illness incurred or aggravated during active military service. Of this number, more than 800,000 veterans had a rating of 70 percent or higher. Severity of one’s disability is scaled from 0 to 100 percent and eligibility for compensation depends on one’s rating.

Statistics from our Survey of Business Owners show the valuable roles that veteran entrepreneurs and their businesses have played within the U.S. economy. In 2007, the latest year for which the survey was conducted, veterans owned an estimated 2.4 million or 9 percent of all 27.1 million nonfarm businesses nationwide.

Veteran entrepreneurs and their businesses have also experienced longevity. Seventy-five percent of veteran business owners were reported to be age 55 or older, compared with 37 percent of all business owners. Fifty-six percent of veteran-owned businesses with paid employees reported that their firm was originally established before 1990, compared with 39 percent of all employer respondent firms.

In addition, 8 percent of veteran owners were reported to be disabled as the result of injury incurred or aggravated during military service.

In addition, we can learn from the American Community Survey that 9.1 million (75 percent) of veterans age 18 to 64 were in the labor force in 2011. Veterans’ annual median income in 2011 was $35,821 compared with $25,811 for the population as a whole, where income includes not only wages and self-employment, but also Social Security, retirement pensions, VA payments, and other forms of income.

When we look at education, we see that 26.3 percent of veterans 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2011. In comparison, 28.5 percent of the total population had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The Census Bureau’s statistics on veterans are used for a variety of purposes. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses information, such as age and disability status, from the ACS for planning purposes. By looking at these statistics for states and local communities, the VA can estimate the demand for medical services and nursing home care for veterans. Statistics about veteran status are used to allocate funds to states and local areas for employment and job training programs for veterans, as well as assess compliance with laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

Private organizations use these statistics to provide services and products to veterans, such as financial products oriented toward veterans. Overall, statistics on veterans provide valuable insight into who the nation’s heroes are and how the nation may continue to serve their needs after their service to the country.

To learn more about our nation’s veterans, please visit our veterans data main page.

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What the Census Bureau Can Tell You About Some of the Communities Affected by Hurricane Sandy

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Written by: Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg

My heart goes out to all of the people in communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.  One way that the Census Bureau can help people impacted is to provide vital information about their communities.

This information is important to the first responders and others who will help those affected get back on their feet again, rebuild and prepare for potential future emergencies. You may be familiar with our local statistics and may have even used them to learn about your community, but did you know they are also critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts?

The Census Bureau provides information not just on the number of people affected, but also information about who they are, for example are they elderly, what are their occupations and how they get to work each day.  The Census Bureau also provides information about the homes affected, such as is it an area where people heat their homes with propane tanks or are there many mobile homes in the area?

We also have information about the businesses in the area, because a disaster affects not just people who live in an area, but also the people who work there.  This information is all available on

Our official population estimates, along with annually updated socioeconomic data from the American Community Survey, as well as our economic statistics, provide a detailed look at our coastal populations, such as communities in New York and New Jersey and throughout the East Coast, who bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy.

A new Census Bureau tool, OnTheMap for Emergency Management helps communities prepare for an emergency. This tool traced the path of Hurricane Sandy starting on October 22. As the predictions about the Storm’s path changed, data on potential impacts were automatically updated.  This innovative tool provides information about the potentially affected population, the kinds of businesses impacted by a natural disaster, and the number and characteristics of workers, as well as where they live. You can use it to look at statistics for declared disaster areas and learn about things like the impacted industries, the ages of workers and workers’ earnings. These statistics can be used by communities to know not only how many people live in an area where there is a disaster but also how many people work in those areas.

OnTheMap screenshot

When a storm hits, one of the first questions many people have is the size of the population affected. For example, almost 4.4 million people lived in counties declared as disaster areas in New Jersey, more than 11 million in New York  and more than 2 million in Connecticut in 2011.

Digging deeper, when communities prepare for or respond to disasters, they often look at what vulnerable populations will need additional assistance. For example, they may look at the size of the elderly population. According to 2011 population estimates, in the counties with a major disaster declaration in New Jersey and New York, 13.8 percent and 12.9 percent of the population are 65 or older respectively. In Connecticut, 14.3 percent of the population in counties declared as disaster areas are 65 or older.

In addition to statistics from our population estimates, the American Community Survey can provide even more detailed information, such as how many people in a community speak a language other than English at home or are disabled. Knowing about these statistics give communities the information they need to plan how to provide services for these populations.

Another question often asked following an event like Hurricane Sandy is the economic impact. Census Bureau economic statistics can help communities measure this by having benchmark information about the number and location of business establishments and jobs from before the storm.

For example, if we look at our 2010 County Business Patterns data, we learn that there were 479,075 business establishments in the Connecticut, New Jersey and New York counties declared major disaster areas. The total employment and annual payroll in these areas was 6,723,791 and $427.4 billion respectively. These counties represent 61.2 percent of the total employment in Connecticut, 45.7 percent of the total employment in New Jersey, and 59.2 percent of the total employment in New York state.  The Local Employment Dynamics Program is another resource that can provide information on businesses and workers at small areas and by detailed characteristics.

These are just a few of the statistics available about these areas and how communities use them. You can explore more statistics about these areas by visiting our Census Data and Emergency Preparedness page.

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Inaugural Meeting of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations

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Written by: Tom Mesenbourg, Acting Director

October 25, 2012 began a new chapter for the Census Bureau advisory committees when we held our first meeting of the newly established National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations. We met all day Thursday and until past 1 p.m. on Friday, October 26. Twenty-five of the thirty-two committee members attended and everyone was an active participant.

It was great to welcome back some of the former members of the Race and Ethnic Advisory Committees as well to meet and interact with the many new members of NAC.  Paul Watanabe did a superb job chairing the meeting and Nancy Bates very capably served as the Designated Federal Official. The discussion was fulsome and the committee offered many good ideas, both regarding committee operations and Census programs.

Advisory Committees play an important role at the Census Bureau. It is all too easy for the Census Bureau, like any large organization, to become insular. Our capable staff have ably demonstrated that they can innovate and improve the efficiency of our operations, if we ask their advice. However, now more than ever, the challenges we currently face demand that we solicit good ideas and advice, seek new perspectives, and fully engage as many external experts as we can to help us address these challenges.

The diverse backgrounds and experiences of the National Advisory Committee members stimulated multidisciplinary discussions that promise to help us improve all of our programs—decennial, demographic and economic. The members’ deep expertise and perspectives regarding a wide variety of hard-to-count communities is going to be a great resource that the Census Bureau can draw on not only during the biannual meetings, but also all during the year.

I want to thank all of the NAC members for their willingness to provide this critically important public service. I look forward to working collaboratively with the committee and any of the work groups they establish. The NAC members’ expertise and commitment will help ensure that the Census Bureau continues to provide relevant and timely statistics on the people, places and economy of this nation, in an increasingly mobile, diverse and technologically oriented society.

Please visit the news release to find out more about the members of the NAC.

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