American Community Survey (ACS) Results Now Available

Resources and Tools

by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner 

The five-year American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2016-2020 has been released and is now available for all geographies in Maryland on the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) website

The ACS is an ongoing, nationwide, monthly survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) covering a sample of approximately three-million households each year and is used to create an estimate of socioeconomic trends in communities across the U.S. As described by the USCB, the “ACS helps local officials, community leaders, and businesses understand the changes taking place in their communities. It is the premier source for detailed population and housing information about our nation.” The ACS is now the source for all socioeconomic data that was formerly obtained solely from the decennial census.  

ACS data is available for two types of releases, one-year/annual and five-year, depending on population size.1 Annual ACS data are available for all geographies with a population of 65,000 or more (i.e., U.S., states, counties, municipalities, places, and incorporated cities or towns).2 Five-year ACS estimates are available for all geographies down to individual census tracts and block groups.3  

Planning’s State Data Center creates data profile reports based on ACS data for all geographies in Maryland. Reports are developed based on the following four characteristics:  

  • Social Characteristics – includes data on education, marital status, relationships, fertility, and grandparents   
  • Economic Characteristics – includes data on income, employment, occupation, and commuting to work  
  • Housing Characteristics – includes data on occupancy and structure, housing value and costs, and utilities  
  • Demographic Characteristics – includes data on gender and age, race, Hispanic origin, and housing units  

The five-year ACS estimates for Maryland can be viewed on the State Data Center’s Document Dashboard (see Fig. 1, below) where users can select a jurisdiction, place, zip code (ZCTA), or by U.S. Congressional, U.S. Senate, or U.S. House legislative district.

Figure 1 – Screenshot showing the Maryland State Data Center’s Document Dashboard drop down menus for Maryland Jurisdictions. 

Additionally, the five-year data from 2016-2020 for Maryland jurisdictions are provided in both chart/tabular form and map format via drop down menus (see Fig. 2, below), highlighting specific socioeconomic data sets, such as: median household income (See Fig. 3, below); rates of participation in labor force; unemployment; homeownership; median value of occupied homes and home ownership costs; median gross rents; percent of homeowners and renters paying more than 35% of their income for housing; and rates of educational attainment.  

Figure 2 – Screenshot showing some of the data profiles available from the Jurisdiction Chart drop down menu on the Maryland State Data Center’s Document Dashboard. 
Figure 3 – Screenshot of map prepared by Maryland’s State Data Center showing Maryland’s median household income by county. 

Tabular/chart and visual comparisons are also provided between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, showing the percent changes in these and other socio-economic categories by jurisdiction, including a map depicting the change in percent of renters paying 35 percent or more of their income for rent from 2011-2015 to 2016-2010 (See Fig. 4, below). These types of comparisons are useful in identifying socioeconomic trends and anticipating needs for such things as affordable housing across the state. 

Figure 4 – Screenshot of a map prepared by the Maryland State Data center showing the Change in Percent of Renters Paying 35% or More of Income for Rent, 2011-2015 to 2016-2020. 

The original five-year ACS raw data by geography for Maryland and the U.S. are also available on the State Data Center website for import into Geographic Information Systems (GIS), enabling users to conduct spatial analyses. 

Finally, the State Data Center has compiled two analyses/reports at the jurisdiction level based upon the newly released ACS five-year data that local governments, agencies, and non-profits may find helpful in developing their programmatic goals:  

For more information about the ACS data for Maryland and/or Planning’s data profile reports for Maryland geographies, please visit the Maryland State Data Center website, or contact Alfred Sundara, AICP, Manager Projections and State Data Center at 

The ACS also hosts conferences as well as presentations and webinars on various topics related to the interpretation and use of ACS data, such as an introduction to the ACS, using the ACS Summary File, and an introduction to statistics in schools and ACS data for classrooms. For a schedule of these and other events, please visit the ACS Events webpage. 

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