Using the American Community Survey to inform Public Officials

Using the American Community Survey to inform Public Officials

Larry G. Mugler, AICP, Arapahoe County

Now that the U.S. Census Bureau releases annual results from the American Community Survey (ACS), we have the opportunity to keep our elected officials and planning commissioners up-to-date on the demographics of their community. However, the volume of data available from the ACS can be overwhelming. In order to provide the information in “bite-size” portions, I developed a series of “demographic highlights”. This article provides an example and explains the process for converting ACS data into other geographies.

The ACS provides data for geographies as small as block groups, usually about 1,000 people. Since Arapahoe County has five county commissioner districts, I built an equivalency between census tracts and block groups to each commissioner district. I could then aggregate data from the ACS into each commissioner district.

The example below is the highlight concerning household income. It required that I build the income distribution from the census tract level and recalculate the median incomes at the commissioner district level. Demographic experts would be concerned about the margin of error calculations for this data manipulation but for my use, I did not believe that it was necessary to provide margins of error.

This information was emailed to the board of county commissioners, the members of the planning commission, senior county staff and the staff of the planning division. With the volume of information from the ACS, I have been able to provide a weekly highlight for most of the year. Topics have included: household characteristics, poverty, housing characteristics like overcrowding, employment by industry, and commuting methods. If you would like more information about these highlights or other samples, please contact me at

County Median Household Income
For 2013, the median income of households ranged from $41,300 in District 5 to $88,900 in District 2 (compared to the county median income of $61,600). Six percent of the households in District 1 and eight percent in Districts 4 and 5 have incomes of less than $10,000 compared to 2 percent in District 3 and 3 percent in District 2. District 2 has 44 percent of the households in the County with incomes over $200,000.

Since the ACS data covers five years of sample households, 2013 is the first year where trends can be addressed. The sample for the 2009 ACS data only overlaps with the 2013 sample by one year. Income information for each dataset is inflation-adjusted to the final year. Between 2009 and 2013, median incomes have shown modest change. District 4 saw a slight drop, about $600, and District 3 the largest gain, almost $9,000. Data for 2009 mostly preceded the great recession while 2013 includes the recession years.



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