The Survey is a statistical sampling of 1 in 10 Americans between the years 2005 and 2009.
Unlike the decennial census we are accustomed to every 10 years in which we attempt to count every single person, the Survey provides an overview of data gathered from fewer people counted over a longer period of time.
The New York Times has used this data to map out specific topics for every census tract in America, including “race and ethnicity,” “income,” “housing and families” and “education.”
Users can drill down to snapshots of specific city blocks within census tracts, or delve into trends and patterns over time.
However, because these numbers are based on samples (as opposed to counting every individual every decade), they do contain some margin of error and, in areas of lower population, should be regarded even more as estimates.
The data has revealed some intriguing findings. Los Angeles County, long a destination for new immigrants, has seen its foreign-born population remain largely unchanged for the first time in several decades.
Elsewhere, in the last decade, new immigrants are settling in greater numbers in small towns and suburbs in greater numbers than ever before, bypassing urban centers more than they have in the past.
Data users have created their own specialized maps and shared them on Twitter, a selection of which have been posted on the New York Times project webpage under the section “Readers Maps.” (This section remains constant even after you change zip code or location away from the default New York display).
Additionally, the American Community Survey Maps webpage contains numerous data mashup maps of its own, albeit based on the 2000 Census.
The data therein is now more than 10 years out of date, but is still useful as a benchmark to be compared to forthcoming results from the 2010 census.
The Survey information allows users to explore how two or more data points can be mapped together, including transportation applications.
For example, one can easily find the mean travel time to work for workers age 16+ who did not work from home, or the median household income (in 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars).
It’s hard to say what is most exciting about this tool: the incredible amount and granularity of detail, the appealing level of user customization, the support for mashup and interactivity, the potential for creating and distributing new knowledge, or unimaginable applications in the future.