The American Community Survey in Action

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Written By: Cheryl Chambers

Today’s annual release of American Community Survey statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau helps communities, organizations, businesses and governments make informed decisions by providing information on more than 40 topics, from educational attainment to commuting to language spoken at home.

Retailers, homebuilders, police departments and city planners are among the many private- and public-sector decision-makers who count on these important statistics. Here are a few examples of how Census Bureau statistics from the American Community Survey helps make a difference in local communities.


KaBOOM! uses American Community Survey statistics, such as median household income and the number of children 12 and under, to identify populations in need of play equipment where playgrounds would get the most use. They use these statistics as a baseline for their program to promote the concept that “Play matters for all kids!” KaBOOM! has created over 2,500 playgrounds across the country to  serve more than 6.5 million children.

National Institutes of Health and RTI International

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health and RTI International use American Community Survey statistics to create “synthetic” populations and simulate the spread of disease. This allows decision-makers to determine the effect of disease transmission and prepare for the next potential outbreak.

Transportation Planning

How many people in your area are on the road and when?  Transportation is a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure. Statistics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey allow planners to determine the most effective use of transportation spending and the delivery of services.

Emergency Planning

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provides statistics that communities use to make decisions about resources, such as after a natural disaster. These statistics are critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts. For example, the American Community Survey provides detailed information on how many people in a community may need extra assistance during a disaster, such as the elderly, disabled or those who speak a language other than English. Knowing these specific details about local communities gives decision makers the information they need to plan and efficiently deploy resources and to accurately measure the impact of a disaster. Visit the Stats in Action page to see some examples.

These are just a few examples of how your community may use everyday statistics. Tell us how you use the American Community Survey in the comments below.

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Married with Health Insurance Coverage

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By Brett O’Hara and Jennifer Cheeseman Day

Married adults under age 65 were more likely to have health insurance coverage than people who were never married or were divorced, separated or widowed. Today, the Census Bureau released new health insurance coverage estimates for 2013 that may provide some insight. In addition to estimates of the number of people without health insurance coverage for the entire 2013 calendar year, the Census Bureau also presents estimates of types of coverage for those who had health insurance, whether private or government-provided.

Looking at these statistics, we find that the relationship between marital status and health insurance coverage may differ for men and women (Figure1). Both married men and married women have the lowest uninsured rates. For those who were never married, men had higher uninsured rates than women. In fact, the uninsured rate for never-married men was 6 percentage points higher than the rate for never-married women (at 27.4 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively). Even for those never married who had health insurance coverage, the rates for both private or government provided were lower for men than for women.


A person’s marital status can change over time, and in instances such as separation or divorce, losing health insurance coverage can be a hardship. For people who were separated, the rate of private coverage was lower than for people who were married, and separated men had a higher rate of private coverage than women. In contrast, government-provided health coverage among people who were separated was higher for women than men.

Among people who were divorced, private health insurance coverage rates did not differ between men and women, and both were higher than for their counterparts who were separated.

You can find more analysis about health insurance coverage in the report Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2013, as well as detailed tables on the Census Bureau website at <>.

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Child Poverty Down – Income of Families with Children Up

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First Annual Decline in Child Poverty Since 2000

Written By: Trudi Renwick, Chief, Poverty Statistics Branch, U.S. Census Bureau

Today the Census Bureau released the 2013 annual Income and Poverty in the United States report. Poverty among children under age 18 fell from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013. This is the first statistically significant year-to-year decline in child poverty since 2000. For the second year in a row, there was an increase in the median income of families with children.


This meant there were 1.4 million fewer children living in poverty, reducing the child poverty count from 16.1 million in 2012 to 14.7 million in 2013.Figure3_ChildPoverty

Child poverty rates fell for non-Hispanic whites, Asians and Hispanics between 2012 and 2013. The poverty rates for black Figure2_ChildPovertychildren did not change between 2012 and 2013. White non-Hispanic children were responsible for about half of the reduction in the number of children in poverty. The number of Hispanic children in poverty was down 561,000.

Child poverty rates were down in three of the four regions. The change in the poverty rate for children in the South was not statistically significant. Poverty fell both for children in metropolitan statistical areas and children living outside metropolitan statistical areas.



Reductions in poverty were significant for children in married-couple families and families with a male householder. The changes in poverty for children in families with a female householder were not statistically significant.

The poverty status of children is determined by looking at the incomes of their families. Median income for families with children increased between 2011 and 2012 and again between 2012 and 2013 − from $59,285 in 2011 to $60,856 in 2012 to $62,161 in 2013.


Between 2012 and 2013, the number of full-time year-round workers in families with minor children increased from 40.1 million to 41.0 million, an increase of about 960,000 workers. Over this same period, there was a decline of 644,000 in the number of less than full-time, year-round workers in these families.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2000 to 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

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Continuously Improving the Health Insurance Coverage Estimates from the Current Population Survey

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By Jennifer Cheeseman Day

In an ever-changing world, we must constantly work to enhance our ways of measurement. This year, the U.S. Census Bureau implemented a new set of questions in the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement about health insurance coverage, and next week, we will begin releasing the results. We expect these new questions will better reflect our changing health insurance environment.

Like most data collections, we have a long history of research and survey improvement. Research dating back to the 1990s showed that estimates of the uninsured seemed higher than those of other major surveys, indicating that underreporting of health insurance coverage might be a larger problem for the Current Population Survey (see infographic).

In response, beginning with the 1999 estimates, we added a verification question at the end of the supplement (see infographic). This asked respondents who had not reported any health insurance coverage whether they were, in fact, uninsured during the previous year. This resulted in an 8 percent decline in the uninsured rate between the old and new estimate for 1999, thus moving the Current Population Survey closer to other published estimates.

For the 2000 estimates, we added a new question about the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and in order to provide new, reliable state level estimates of health insurance coverage, we added 28,000 more households to the sample.

 In 2011, we enhanced our data processing methods and released revised estimates on health insurance coverage back to 1999.

 Yet, research continued to suggest the Current Population Survey needed further improvement, as the health insurance estimates still were not in line with other sources.

We researched reporting problems in the survey itself, considering, for example, whether question order matters. We held focus groups and conducted cognitive testing and field tests.  We also conducted expert reviews, interviewer debriefings, record-check studies, and other kinds of research, working to find any potential sources of measurement error.

From this research, we developed a new set of survey questions. The aim was to capture coverage in a more intuitive way and make it easier for the respondents to correctly identify their coverage.

The questions were shorter and simpler. They drilled down as needed and were designed to clarify areas of ambiguity. The survey instrument used previous answers about age, income and other coverage within the household to present appropriate follow-up questions that could capture underreported plans.

And finally, the new design used a hybrid flow of both household- and person-level questions. It begins by asking the first person in the household about his or her coverage, but then fills the information where appropriate for other household members so the questions don’t have to repeat for each person.

In addition, we ran a final field test in 2013 to demonstrate that the questions worked well. With positive results in hand, the Census Bureau moved forward with the redesigned questions earlier this year.

Our goal was to produce the best health insurance coverage estimates with the Current Population Survey. The improvements this year will better measure health insurance coverage for the prior calendar year, thus providing a strong 2013 baseline to measure future changes in health insurance coverage caused by the Affordable Care Act.

See also Health Insurance Coverage Measurement in Two Surveys

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Health Insurance Coverage Measurement in Two Surveys

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By Brett O’Hara

Next week, the U.S. Census Bureau is releasing two sources for health insurance statistics in the United States: the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. While both surveys have questions that attempt to measure the same phenomena, they go about it in different ways.

Since 1987, the Current Population Survey has produced health insurance statistics every year, making it one of the most widely used sources of statistics on health insurance coverage in the United States. It provides statistics on health insurance status (insured or not insured), as well as the type of coverage, for the nation and by demographic groups, and shows us trends over the last couple of decades (See blog on recent changes to the Current Population Survey)

Starting in 2008, the Census Bureau also began asking about health insurance coverage using the American Community Survey. With its much larger sample size, we can see health insurance statistics for a broader range of geographic levels, including all 50 states, all counties and metro areas, and many other small geographic areas.

Many people ask us which estimate to use for a particular purpose. Our answer differs this year as we introduced a new set of health insurance coverage questions in the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

Both surveys obtain a person’s health insurance status by asking if they have insurance through a number of different sources, such as an employer, directly through an insurance company, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration and other public sector insurance, and the military. However, the surveys differ in both their times of collection and reference periods.

Like the other topics in the Current Population Survey’s Annual and Social and Economic Supplement, which is conducted in February, March and April, respondents answer questions about the previous calendar year. Specifically, we ask if they had health insurance coverage at any time in the previous calendar year. The survey, thus, measures if a person was insured on any day during the previous year. They are considered “uninsured” only if, for the entire year, they had no coverage under any type of health insurance.

In contrast, the American Community Survey is a rolling sample of households collected continuously all year long. We ask if a person is currently covered by any of the listed types of health insurance. So, the American Community Survey measures health insurance of the population based on whether people are insured at the point-in-time that they answered the survey during the year of collection.

There is also a variety of differences in the survey logistics. Census Bureau field representatives conduct the Current Population Survey by personal visit or telephone. For the American Community Survey, many respondents receive a paper form to complete and return in the mail. Because of space limits within a paper survey, the American Community Survey asks fewer and less detailed questions than the Current Population Survey. In addition, the American Community Survey asks about the insurance coverage of each household member specifically, while the Current Population Survey asks if anyone in the household is covered, and, if so, who that is.

With these variations and others, the two surveys produce consistent, though slightly different statistics on health insurance coverage. Estimates from these two surveys rose and fell in parallel between 2009 through 2012. This degree of consistency between the two surveys collected under such different conditions gives us confidence that these statistics are useful for those who need to understand the state of health insurance coverage in America.

For this year, as always, the benefit of the Current Population Survey is the combination of detailed employment and detailed income data, along with the health insurance data, which provides an excellent overall picture of the well-being of our nation. However, to compare the 2013 estimates and previous years, there are other sources of health insurance coverage statistics, such as those from the American Community Survey and National Health Interview Survey. Also, because of the larger sample size and smaller sampling errors, we recommend using the American Community Survey for subnational geographies.

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