By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Census sheds light on small towns
Updates could prove useful
Placeholder Image

American Community Survey results


Flowery Branch




Numbers released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau are giving new insight into how we live - and how we relate to those just down the road from us.

For example, nearly 64 percent of Clermont grandparents residing with their grandchildren are solely responsible for the children's welfare, compared to about 7 percent just 15 miles away in Gainesville.

Only 65 percent of people in Gainesville have a high school diploma, compared to more than 85 percent 10 minutes away in Flowery Branch.

And virtually all residents of Lula only speak English at home, as opposed to 73 percent half an hour away in Oakwood.

In the past, comparisons like this among smaller cities and towns could only be made following the release of decennial census results. But for the first time this year, the Census Bureau released hyperlocal estimates gleaned from five years of surveys. Having that large sample size allows for rich demographic data not just on a county or town level but on a community level.

The results are part of the bureau's American Community Survey, which is released every year for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more. In 2007, the bureau released numbers based on three years of surveys, which gave insight on communities of 20,000 or more. The five-year estimates shed light on very small towns such as Clermont, with fewer than 1,000 residents.

Every year from here forward, the bureau will release both one-year and five-year data sets.

Experts say in the future, comparing the five-year numbers could prove to be a powerful tool for many community planners and problem solvers.

"Over time we're going to be able to see trends ... that are very useful and help evaluate ‘How well are we doing?' said Shelly Lowe, spokeswoman for the Census Bureau. "Are we meeting the needs of our people? What aspect of the changing population is changing the future of our community?"

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said this data will be crucial for planning the center's outreach and programming. For example, she said, town-specific data about the elderly can be used to better serve their needs.

"We need to know, specifically, where are those clusters of aging populations?" said Moss, who was the county coordinator for the 2010 census.

"Currently, we have our main senior center ... but in the future we need to expand to satellite sites and we need to know where those sites need to be."

Explaining the need for specific programming will also be easier with up-to-date community statistics, she said.

"We can now go to our elected officials and justify why we're providing a service in a particular area," she said. "...I can now very thoroughly justify why these services need to be provided and why their constituents, in particular, need to be served."

Moss also suggested the data could be useful for parks and recreation departments in tailoring facilities to community interests, for example, adding more soccer fields in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods.

Nonprofit organizations, Moss said, could use the data to focus educational efforts in areas vulnerable to substance abuse, and developers could help attract business to areas where new projects could flourish.

Rusty Ligon, director of community development for Gainesville, said yearly demographics and population updates could prove helpful as the county prepares to produce its 20-year comprehensive plan and the city drafts and executes its five-year work program.

"If we get population updates annually now ... if for some reason there is a change in population that may have been unexpected, we'll be able to adjust that short-term work program as we need to," he said.

He added, though, that this five-year Census estimate is so new that many government departments and community organizations may still be figuring out how best to use it.

There has been a demand, though, for this community-specific data, Moss said.

"I think the census' decision to make this information available in greater detail on an annual basis is wonderful," she said. "And I think they're being responsive to the request of many community leaders across the nation who said this data is necessary so they can plan better."