NC in Focus: Explore 2011-2013 ACS Data

The Census Bureau released the 2011-2013 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates today. These estimates cover detailed socioeconomic characteristics of the population and are available for all counties with populations of 20,000. This release provides data on 84 counties in North Carolina. The final 2013 ACS release—the 2009-2013 data—covering all areas, including the census tract and block group levels, is scheduled for December 4.

With the release of this data set, users can compare the time period during and immediately after the onset of the Great Recession (2008-2010) with later years (2011-2013). The Census Bureau’s American FactFinder tool has built in “comparative” tables that allow you to easily see whether the changes over the two time periods are statistically significant.

Here’s how to start exploring:

  1. Go to American FactFinder.
    Once there, click “Advanced Search” and choose “Show Me All.
    Step 1 American FactFinder
  2. Select your dataset.
    On the left hand side of the page, you will see a header that says, “Search using the options below.” Select “Topics” and then select “Dataset.” You will see many options; the 2013 ACS 3-year estimates are currently the first option.
    Step 2 American FactFinder
  3. Select “Comparison Profiles”
    Once you select your dataset, the full array of tables available in the data set will appear. To focus solely on comparison profiles, look again under “Topics.” “Comparison Profiles” are located under the less immediately intuitive category “Product Type.”Step 3 American FactFinder
  4. Select the geography you want to explore.
    American FactFinder defaults to populating the tables with data for the U.S. as a whole. Choose the states, counties, or places you want to explore on the geography tab.
    Step 4 American FactFinder
  5. Start exploring!
    If you’ve limited it only to comparison tables, you will be left with 4 major topics: social characteristics, economic characteristics, housing characteristics, and demographic estimates. Each of these comparative tables contains dozens of data points for each geography.
    Step 5 American FactFinderOnce you open one of the comparative tables, you will see 3 columns under each geography type: the most recent 2011-2013 ACS estimate, the 2008-2010 estimate, and the results from a test of statistical significance. An asterisk (*) in the statistical significance column indicates that the 2011-2013 estimate is significantly different (90% confidence interval) from the 2008-2010 estimate.Below, the snippet of the “Comparative Economic Characteristics” table shows that Alamance County’s population age 16 and over has grown significantly since 2008-2010 and that the 2011-2013 labor force participation rates and unemployment rates are significantly different than they were in 2008-2010.
    Step 6 American FactFinder

What will you find in the data? Happy exploring!

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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