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VERIFY: Yes, the American Community Survey is legitimate

The Census Bureau confirms some households receive the American Community Survey, in addition to the 2020 Census.

ATLANTA — The 2020 census was a big topic of conversation over the past year, its importance promoted by both U.S. Census Bureau and public officials. 

But now some 11Alive viewers reached out to the VERIFY team, asking if another recently received survey is also legitimate. 

THE QUESTION

"I have received survey from the United States Census Bureau. It is called The American Community Survey. It says that my response is required by law. Is this real or another scam?"

THE ANSWER

Yes, the American Community Survey is legitimate and part of annual Census Bureau efforts. 

WHAT WE FOUND OUT

According to sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey (ACS) is indeed legitimate. While the 2020 Census is the 10-year survey and primarily a population count determining each state's congressional representation, the ACS is different. 

Unlike the 2020 Census, the American Community Survey is an annual survey, sent by the US Census Bureau to a sample of the population each month (approximately 3.5 million households annually).

The questions on the ACS are also more in-depth than those on the 10-year tally and focus on topics including education, employment and transportation. As part of its functions, ACS responses help decide how federal funding gets spent,

Peter Bluestone, a senior research associate at Georgia State University, explained more to our VERIFY team. 

"We're going through that process right now with the American Rescue Plan," Bluestone said. "A large amount of federal money is being allocated based on the response to questions from the American Community Survey."

According to a Census Bureau spokesperson, American Community Survey participants are selected randomly.

"Because it's a rolling survey and not a count of the population unlike the 2020 Census, there are no specific numbers as to how many people are contacted in a specific area every month. Respondents are selected randomly and may be contacted by internet, mail, telephone or in-person," the spokesperson said.

Statistics garnered from ACS results are also released annually, helping communities decide on key decisions 

"The Atlanta Regional Commission relies on this data, our own Georgia State uses data for research to help evaluate programs and guide the state legislature in policy analysis," Bluestone said. "So it's an important program, and lots of government entities rely on it for more important decision making."

In summary, we can verify the American Community Survey is legitimate and part of annual Census Bureau efforts. 

The agency's website also confirms that a participant's response to the ACS is required by law. Also, a reminder: while there are a lot of personal questions, the bureau never asks for your social security number or banking information. 

11Alive's Verify team is here to fact-check claims being shared in the community and online. Fill out the form below with something you'd like us to Verify.

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