Community, Demography

When the official data isn’t good data

As I was retiring, the American Community Survey(ACS) was replacing the long-form Census questionnaire.  There is merit to the argument that a survey can provide data that is as good as a form that one out of six people fill out – both are, after all, actually surveys.  Still, as a rural sociologist whose primary duties were rural demography, I wasn’t comfortable with the American Community Survey results – the sampling size was too small.

Now, I can access data that compiles five years worth of estimates – so here is some data on Rexford, Eureka, Fortine and Trego, by zip code, in two separate five-year conglomerates:

2012-2016Rexford
59930
Eureka
59917
Fortine
59918
Trego
59934
Total Population5664,425584562
5 to 9212823452
10 to 14353052249
Median (Average) Age58.043.650.749.2
Per capita income$22,377$18,799$21,203$25,999
2015-2019Rexford
59930
Eureka
59917
Fortine
59918
Trego
59934
Total Population6584,769747476
5 to 953212
10 to 14502163520
Median (Average) Age56.046.847.260.4
Per capita income$13,438$22,867$28,753$26,671

The American Community Survey is a well-conducted survey.  The data is correct, in both cases, within the limits of the survey.  The small samples, however, can create some large swings and make the data less useful.  I have been looking forward to reviewing the Trego data since I was selected to return the ACS survey.  Trego’s median age went up 11 years.  The population dropped by 15%.  The youth population plunged.  Meanwhile Fortine incomes increased by 36%, as Rexford plunged into the depths of poverty.  All the survey data is correct – but sampling bias, due to the small number of participants, has given us data we can’t use.

I still prefer the old, time-consuming long form results over the ACS.

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