Monday, November 18, 2013

Comparing ACS Data: Where We Have Come in the Last Five Years in Oneida County

I'd like to provide some insights into the utility of the American Communities Survey (ACS) data that has been collected for nearly a decade now. The resulting information we have gained about our region CAN now be looked at across time in ways that weren't possible in the past. After all, such data used to be collected through the decennial census, so we only saw it once every 10 years. With the ACS, areas with populations in excess of 65,000 people have data available on an annual basis. So, theoretically, we should be able to track how things have changed over time without having to wait 10 years for the next census to arrive.

The "benefits" of doing this are questionable however. Not so much because there is limited ability to make policy changes on the fly as new data comes along. Rather, the limitations of comparing the data across small incremental time periods is that the data is based on small samples that often have large margins of error. To learn more about the MOEs (or margins of error) you may want to revisit this post. So as I share information about changes we've seen in the last five years, please make note of the fact that ACS is best viewed with caution and in the context of other meaningful data sets.

So where have we come then? Well let's begin with a look at how we have changed in terms of our social profile.

While many data points could be examined, I will only talk about those that have changed in a statistically significant way over the last 4 or 5 years, and that also seem to show a pattern of change that makes intuitive sense as well. All of the following data concerns Oneida County from the year 2008 to 2012. 

Families, Nonfamilies, and the Elderly: Statistically, we have seen a decline in the number of family households in the county between the years 2008 and 2012 (64.5% versus 61,2%, respectively). This comes at the same time as we see a significant rise in non-family households, from 35.5% to 38.8% between 2008 and 2012. "Nonfamilies" are householders living alone, or with other non-related individuals. Within these nonfamilies, we have found an increase in the percentages of people who actually live by themselves, as well as among those who are age 65 or older. One third of all people living in households in the county are "loners" - they live alone with no one else present. And nearly one in seven households in the county (14%) are occupied by a lone senior citizen. In both these cases, the percentage of households that are occupied by either a person living alone, or in which an elderly person is living alone, has increased significantly since 2008.

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Marital Status For Males and Females: It appears as though fewer males and females are reporting that they are married and living together now than five years ago. While about 49% of males said that they were married and living with their spouse in 2009, that number has dropped significantly to 46% of males in the most recent ACS data. Among women, the percentage has gone from around 46% in 2009 to about 43% in 2012. The percentage of females indicating that they were divorced has increased as well over the same period.

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Highest Level of Education: The population appears to be more well educated now that it was five years ago. Fewer people reported their highest level of education as being a high school diploma (it has dropped from about 35% in 2008 to around 32% in 2012), while more people said that they had attained a bachelors degree or higher (from a low of 19% in 2009 to as many as 24% in 2012).
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Foreign Born Populations and Language Spoken At Home: More foreign-born people now live in the county than did five years ago. In 2008 about 6.4% of the population reported being foreign born. Now, around 8% of the county's population claims birth in a foreign country. Along the same lines, more people are speaking a language other than English at home as well. In 2008, about 10% of the population reported that English wasn't the primary language that they spoke while at home. In 2012, 13% of county residents speak something other than English while at home.

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Future Comparative Posts: Statistically speaking, these are the main social changes we have seen in the last five years within Oneida County, based on the ACS data. Still to come if future posts will be and examination of the changes we have seen economically and in terms of housing data. Again, be careful to recognize that the limitation of the ACS data lies in the margins of error that come with relative small sampling done with the survey instrument. Such data as provided here should be used as a springboard for looking at other data sets that may address the social, economic or housing issues brought forth by the ACS comparison files.