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Using the American Community Survey: Benefits and Challenges
Selected Federal Agency Uses of Census Long-Form-Sample Data
The U.S. Department of Justice uses the long-form-sample data on race, Hispanic origin, educational attainment, language spoken at home, how well English is spoken, and citizenship for census tracts and American Indian areas to implement sections of the Voting Rights Act that deal with bilingual voting assistance.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uses the data on occupation, industry, and demographic characteristics for ZIP codes and other geographic areas to analyze statistical evidence in class action charges of employment discrimination.
The OMB Statistical and Science Policy Office uses the data on place of work in relation to place of residence, together with population size and density, for counties and places to define metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. These areas have many public- and private-sector applications, including use in determining eligibility for some types of federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses the data on older people, such as marital status, educational attainment, ancestry, disability status, income, year last worked, and housing characteristics, for counties, cities, and census tracts to measure social isolation and housing needs under the Older Americans Act.
The U.S. Department of Transportation uses the data on disability, means of transportation to work, and automobile ownership for traffic analysis zones (small areas made up of one or more block groups) to monitor compliance with the Federal Transit Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Types of federal agency uses of the 2000 long-form-sample data and, prospectively, of the ACS data vary widely (Citro, 2000a; National Research Council, 2004b:Ch. 2; National Research Council, 1995:Apps. C, G, H, M). Ten selected long-form-sample uses are summarized in Box 3-1; they give a flavor of the importance of these data to the operation of the federal government. The ACS should be able to serve all of these federal agency uses and more, providing more up-to-date information of higher quality than the long-form sample. Some of the issues that must be considered in using ACS estimates for federal applications are illustrated below in the discussion of two specific uses: formula fund allocation (3-A.1) and determination of income limits for housing assistance programs (3-A.2).
3-A.1 Allocation of Federal Funds
In sheer dollar terms, perhaps the most important use by federal agencies of long-form-sample data is to allocate billions of dollars of federal funds annually to states and localities (National Research Council, 2000b, 2003a; U.S. General Services Administration, 2006). Long-form-sample