confusing when it is inserted into one of the very few instructions that are supposed to explain a “current” residence concept.
According to the rule, people who are not present at the time of the interview but are away for 2 months or less are supposed to be considered current residents and included in the ACS household. The third bulleted instruction—to exclude “anyone who is living somewhere else for more than 2 months”—addresses the converse situation: it emphasizes that long-term absentees should be omitted but does not speak directly to short-term residents who should be included. The semantics of this instruction are also interesting because it uses the strong condition “living somewhere else” rather than “staying” (as in the second bullet) or “living or staying” (first bullet). This wording raises, for instance, the problem of family members who are away from home for physical rehabilitation or other such programs, possibly for 2 or more months: a respondent may consider these family members as staying somewhere else for a time, but not necessarily living somewhere else.
The ACS current residence standard lays out several exceptions to the general 2-month rule, none of which is referenced in the instructions. Indeed, the only specific living situation included in the instructions is the prominently underlined reference to college students in the third instruction. This lone example is interesting and potentially confusing, depending on when the survey is administered. Assume a calendar where college classes end in mid-May and resume in late August or early September. By the letter of the 2-month rule, college students who have returned to their parents’ homes at the end of classes ought to be reported as current residents if the ACS is administered in late May or June (the students are expected to be at the home location for just over 2 months) or in July or August (the students have been at the home location for 2 months or more). In concept, college students could also be reported as current residents in an interview at their parents’ homes in March or April—the students are away right now, but will return within 2 months. Yet what stands out from a cursory look at the instructions is a connection between “do not list” and “college student[s].” The counting of college students seems to be an instance where the ACS attempts to retain the “usual residence” character of the decennial census, though that may contradict the survey’s own “current residence” orientation.
Regarding the presentation of basic residence concepts on the questionnaire itself, two additional points should be made. First, the Bureau provides a companion booklet—“Your Guide for the American Community Survey”—that is intended to walk respondents through the questions. However, that booklet is keyed only to the numbered questions, the first of which is “What is this person’s sex?” in the columns of the “List of Residents.” That is, the companion instruction book skips the first-page “Start Here” block entirely, and provides no additional residence instructions on who should or should not be included in the resident list. Second, the features described thus far—