Today the U.S. Census Bureau released new statistics from the 2016–2020 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. Following pandemic-related data collection disruptions, the Census Bureau revised its methodology to reduce nonresponse bias in data collected in 2020. After evaluating the effectiveness of this methodology, the Census Bureau determined the standard, full suite of 2016–2020 ACS 5-year data are fit for public release, government and business uses. These statistics boost the understanding of the social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges for the 2020 ACS data collection, we have worked tirelessly over the last few months to refine our methodology and reduce the impact of nonresponse bias in the 2016–2020 ACS 5-year data products,” said Donna Daily, division chief of the ACS Office.
The revised methodology improves the 2020 weighted survey responses by comparing characteristics for responding and nonresponding households using administrative, third-party and decennial census data. This provides key insight into how those who participated may be different than those who did not and allowed an adjustment to make the data more representative of the entire population. The resulting 2020 input data were then integrated with the inputs from 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 (processed using standard ACS methodology) to produce the 5-year data products. To learn more about changes to the methodology, view the methodology user note.
The ACS is the nation’s leading source of large- and small-area socioeconomic and demographic statistics for all levels of geography for every community in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. ACS data provides public officials, community leaders, business owners, researchers and others with detailed information helping them to plan for the future. The 2016–2020 ACS 5-year estimates are available for 40+ topics and can be found on data.census.gov. Below are highlights from this release on the topics of income and poverty.
Median Household Income
- The newly released 2016–2020 ACS 5-year data shows that U.S. median household income increased to $64,994 when compared to the 2011–2015 ACS 5-year data adjusted for inflation.
- Between the two nonoverlapping periods, median household income increased in 48 states and the District of Columbia, decreased in one state (Alaska), and was not statistically different in one state (Wyoming) and Puerto Rico.
- From 2011–2015 to 2016–2020, the overall poverty rate decreased from 15.5% to 12.8%. Across these two time periods, the poverty rate decreased in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, while the change in the poverty rate in Alaska was not statistically significant. No state had an increase in poverty.
- From 2011–2015 to 2016–2020, the poverty rate decreased in 1,294 counties and municipios, and increased in 85 counties and municipios. The change was not statistically significant in 1,840 counties and municipios.
It is important to note, the ACS 5-year estimates are not designed to measure rapid change during short periods because the data come from a 5-year period. Although the most recent estimates contain data that include the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, they also contain data collected in the final years (2016–2019) of the longest expansion in the history of U.S. business cycles. These data only reflect a small part of the impact of the pandemic on social, economic and housing measures.
Data users should use caution when comparing 2016–2020 5-year estimates to earlier ACS data. For more information, visit comparison guidance. To learn more about the ACS 5-year period estimates, read Period Estimates in the American Community Survey.
Changes to Race and Hispanic Origin
The 2016–2020 ACS 5-year estimates also reflect planned changes made to the design, processing and coding of the race and Hispanic origin questions.
Beginning in 2020, the Census Bureau implemented changes to the Hispanic origin and race questions based on extensive research and outreach over the past decade. The improvements made to the design, processing and coding of the Hispanic origin and race questions are similar to changes made in the 2020 Census.
The improvements enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people self-identify, yielding a more accurate portrait of how people report their Hispanic origin and race when the questions are asked separately.
The differences in the overall racial distributions relative to 2011–2015 ACS data are largely due to improvements in the design of the two separate questions for Hispanic origin and race data collection and processing as well as some demographic changes.
The 2020 Census provides the official count (including Hispanic origin and race) of the population and housing units for the nation, states, counties, cities, and towns. The ACS provides estimates of certain additional characteristics of the population to add rich context for understanding the nation’s population. ACS data products may be impacted by the changes in the racial distribution.
The findings on race and ethnicity from the 2016–2020 ACS were similar to the 2020 Census results.
- The White population remained the largest race or ethnicity group in the U.S.
- The multiracial (the Two or More Races) population increased between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020.
- All of the “race alone” or “in combination” groups experienced numeric increases between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020. The Some Other Race alone or in combination population had the largest increase among the race groups between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020.
- The Hispanic or Latino population, which includes people of any race, grew at a faster pace between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020 than the population that was not of Hispanic or Latino origin.
The observed changes in the overall racial distributions could be due to a number of factors, including demographic change. However, we expect they were largely due to the improvements to the design, processing and coding of the race and ethnicity questions, which enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people prefer to self-identify.
For more information about the survey, go to the ACS homepage.
The Census Bureau is also set to release the ACS 5-year Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) and the Variance Replicate Estimates (VRE) on March 31, 2022.
To view the complete 2020 release schedule, visit the 2020 release schedule page.
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