ArcGIS Living Atlas

Updates to American Community Survey Layers Now Available in ArcGIS Living Atlas

The 2016-2020 American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates are now available within ArcGIS Living Atlas. For GIS users, these ready-to-use layers save many hours of download and data processing time, and let people instantly begin to explore, map and analyze the data at state, county and tract levels. The layers can also be downloaded if needed.

The Census ACS enables local officials, businesses, and researchers to understand what’s taking place in their communities and helps community programs allocate resources. This data determines how $675 billion dollars in federal and state spending are spent each year, so access to the latest available data is critical. Census ACS data is used by everyone from regional planners and program administrators to entrepreneurs and big companies looking for their next location to set up shop, something that can lead to more local jobs.

Since 2018, Esri provides to the GIS community a set of free layers that contain a wealth of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. On March 17, 2022 Census released its updated five-year estimates (2016-2020) after validating the effectiveness of the methodology adjustments made in response to methodology due to the pandemic.  The data is normally released in late November/early December each year. This document describes the accuracy of the 2016-2020 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.

Within days of that release, the Living Atlas Policy Maps team updated the Census ACS layers already available in Living Atlas to provide this latest update from Census as ready to use layers. Maps and apps that already use these layers now reflect the most recent Census ACS figures.

Access the Latest Census ACS Data

You can quickly map more than 2,000 Census ACS attributes across 108 layers covering a wide range of demographic topics such as income, housing, age, race, education and more. Each layer already shows an interesting subject on the map, with an informative pop-up so that you can immediately see important patterns anywhere within the U.S. or Puerto Rico. You can also easily use the layers to create your own customized web maps and applications to tell an endless number of stories about the population or housing in your area.

Some other benefits to these layers:

Sample of field descriptions
Sample field descriptions of Census attributes and Esri-calculated attributes

Additional Topics Added

Local governments, non-profits and businesses are increasingly interested in more specific details about Asian and Hispanic or Latino populations. These new layers provide detailed counts of Census tabulations “Asian alone or in any combination by selected groups” (e.g. Indonesian), and of “Hispanic or Latino origin by specific origin” (e.g. Argentinean). To assist GIS analysts we have added new layers about these useful tabulations.

Explore the pop-ups in these layers to learn more about the top Asian and Hispanic or Latino groups in this area. For example, the pop-up in the Specific Asian layer shows that the most populous Asian groups in Hawaii are Filipino and Japanese.

Enhancements Just Released 

Margin of Error Pop-Up

What’s Different with 2016-2020 ACS

Boundary Changes

The 2016-2020 ACS estimates are provided in 2020 TIGER boundaries, as specified by the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the 2020 boundaries overlap with a decennial Census year, there are changes to the county and Census tract boundaries. There are nearly 12,000 more census tracts than before. With many areas declining in population and other areas growing in population, there are 11,479 census tracts that were changed/deprecated. There is also a U.S. county which has been split into two counties.

For more information, read this blog on updates to U.S. Census boundaries.

Example of change in tracts
Many tracts changed shape and their GEOID

Expect Larger Changes

Larger Margins of Error

Get started today 

Find the layers: 

Learn where to find these Census ACS layers and start using them within your mapping and analysis workflows. Check out this story map to learn how. You can also check out this ArcGIS Online group or find them by searching in ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. 

Map your community: 

Learn how to make a map about your community in four easy steps in this blog. You’ll have your own custom web map in minutes! 

Update your existing Census ACS maps: 

Search your items for “current year ACS” to find any maps that use these layers. If you use the layers “as is” without modifying their symbology or popups, you don’t need to do anything other than verify everything looks as expected.  The source layer has adjusted the symbology to reflect the current national figures, and popups in the source layer reflect the latest updates. If you know you modified these layers’ symbology or popups, compare your map to the source layer to decide if you want to make any changes. 


If you have questions about the layers, visit our FAQ, or post on Esri Community’s Living Atlas space. You can also learn more about the layers in this blog. 

About the authors

Steven is a Product Engineer on ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World's Policy Maps team. He is interested in transportation, housing, and demography. Steven enjoys a good chicken wing or 12.

Jim Herries is a geographer with Esri in Redlands, California. He serves as Senior Principal Product Engineer and Product Engineering Lead, Cartography on the team responsible for ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. Jim works with teams on thematic mapping and map visualizations, reflecting a drive to help GIS users bring their data to life on the map and stimulate insights. He constantly looks for ways to create clear, focused map information products that incorporate meaningful spatial analysis and evocative visualizations. When he started in GIS at Ohio State, he walked over to the campus library to transcribe census data by hand to paper so that he could hand-enter it into spreadsheets for upload into Arc/INFO for mapping and analysis. Today, he appreciates how web GIS brings everyone access to good data in useful layers and maps as a starting point for great work.

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