March 17, 2022

Census Bureau: New Statistics Available from the 2016-2020 American Community Survey

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 Below are highlights from this release on the topics of income and poverty.

Median Household Income


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 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.

This post was originally published here.