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U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year Estimates
U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year Estimates

Granular annually updating source of data on people, housing units, income, vehicle access, educational attainment, poverty, and more.

Sarah Byrd avatar
Written by Sarah Byrd
Updated over a week ago

Some of the mostly commonly used data in the mySidewalk data library come from the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is an ongoing survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, send to 3.5 million people every calendar year. The U.S. Census Bureau uses the ACS survey to annually publish its hallmark data product, the ACS 5-Year Estimates.

When are the new 5-year Estimates available?

Every December the U.S Census Bureau releases new 5-year Estimates.

What do I need to do to get the new ACS data values?


We replace the old ACS 5-year Estimates with the new vintage every December. It means the data values are replaced across all mySidewalk products.

We do this for a couple of reasons. First, we want you to have the most up-to-date and granular data about people and housing possible. By replacing the values, it ensures your Seek Workspace, Chart Report, Press Dashboard, or WhereHouse Database all have the latest data. Second, the Census Bureau recommends against comparing 5-year estimates that have overlapping survey years. This is because the 5-year Estimates are a range - weighted survey results from 60 months - so 5-year Estimates with overlapping years would use overlapping response data.

What updates automatically?

The data values and the footnote automatically update.

How does the mySidewalk team update the ACS data?

We do the work to acquire, clean, remove placeholders, create custom data combinations, organize, add metadata, and transform the data. Every indicator must pass through extensive programmatic and manual QA before the over 1.3 Billion ACS data values are updated in mySidewalk products. Our goal is to do all of this work in five business days.

We use weighted block to block group apportionment to calculate data from the ACS for our non-Census geographies - Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), City Council Districts and Neighborhoods.

ACS 5-Year Estimates Explained

The U.S. Census Bureau produces the ACS 5-Year Estimates by pooling together the results of the five previous survey years. Using a pooled data frame, the U.S. Census Bureau generates estimates of thousands of economic and demographic characteristics for the entire United States. Through pooling multiple years of data, the U.S. Census Bureau trades precision with respect to time for improved estimation accuracy. Because they are generated with five years of survey data (as opposed to a single year), the five year estimates have several interpretative nuances.

  • ACS data are estimates. The U.S. Census Bureau collects data from a sample of the population in the United States rather than from the whole population. 

  • ACS 5-year estimates represent the average of characteristics over an interval of time as opposed to a single point in time.

  • Five-year estimates cannot be compared with previously published five-year estimates consisting of overlapping years.

  • ACS five-year estimates may be compared to Decennial Census data (i.e. 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020).

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