2015 1-Year American Community Survey (ACS) data was released on September 15, 2016. The ACS, produced by the US Census Bureau, is a primary source of demographic, economic and social characteristics of American families, households and individuals. This data is important for Head Start programs, and can be used to complete or update a triennial Community Assessment and determine the level of need for Head Start services within a service area or recruitment area. The 1-year data is only available at the state and federal level, but subsequent releases of 3-year and 5-year data will cover all geographies down to the zip code and census tract level.

To demonstrate the importance of ACS data and the power of a well crafted analysis we will be looking at Head Start Region I data and comparing it to publicly available data from Head Start Program Information Reports (publicly available here). This analysis is for an entire Head Start region encompassing multiple states; but the specific data points remain the same at all levels, whether you are looking at a poverty rate for a town, city, county, state or region as a whole. This analysis applies to Head Start programs of any size. All tables and graphs can be reproduced for any Head Start service area.

map-region1

Region I Overview

Head Start Region I includes the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. ACS data includes thousands of data points across hundreds of tables. The most important data points for the purposes of a Head Start Community Assessment or for Head Start planning purposes include:

  1. Table S0101 – Age and Sex:
    • Population
    • Percent of the population under the age of 5
  2. Table DP03 – Selected Economic Characteristics:
    • Poverty rate for families with children under the age of 5

These data points are available for all geographies in the ACS, though some geographies may only be available for the 3-year or 5-year ACS and not the 1-year ACS. (Confused? See the difference between the 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year ACS here.) These data points from the ACS can be combined to create what is called a derived estimate, that is an estimate created by combining one or more data points from the ACS. Here we will use the population, the percentage of the population under the age of 5, and the poverty rate for families with children under the age of 5 to create a derived estimate of the number of Head Start and Early Head Start eligible children in Region 1. This results in the following:

Region 1
1-Year American Community Survey
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Population 14,429,720 14,457,499 14,492,360 14,562,704 14,618,806 14,680,722 14,727,584
% under 5 5.8% 5.5% 5.4% 5.3% 5.2% 5.2% 5.2%
Total under 5* 831,252 794,430 779,302 778,874 766,690 767,971 765,221
Poverty rate 8.5% 10.1% 10.2% 9.3% 8.8% 8.7% 8.1%
Head Start eligible children* 42,421 47,905 47,717 43,228 40,357 40,202 36,997
Early Head Start eligible children* 63,633 71,859 71,577 64,844 60,536 60,306 55,498
* derived estimate

Region I is experiencing an overall drop in the estimated number of Head Start and Early Head Start eligible children. Driving this trend is a decrease in the percentage of the population under the age of 5 and a decrease in the poverty rate for young families. That poverty rate has dropped by 2.15 percentage points since 2011 and the estimated number of Head Start eligible children has dropped by about 10,700 over 2011 to 2015; a 22.5% decline.

Comparing Program Information Report data and ACS data

These are just estimates based on sampled data, so it’s best to corroborate this data with another source. One of the best sources available is internal Head Start data which can be found in Program Information Reports (PIR.) 2015-2016 PIR data is not yet available, but we can match up previous year’s data with the ACS estimates to compare trends. Funded enrollment, cumulative enrollment, and the portion of cumulative enrollment that qualified as income or categorically eligible can all be compared to the ACS derived estimates.

esths-eligible-over-bar
ACS and PIR Data – Enrollment data compared to the estimated number of Head Start eligible children. PIR data is matched with ACS data by the beginning of the PIR’s school year. So 2014-2015 school year data is matched with 2014 ACS data and so on. 2015-2016 PIR data was not available at the time of publication.
Region I ACS Derived Estimates:
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Head Start eligible children* 42,421 47,905 47,717 43,228 40,357 40,202 36,997
Region I PIR Data; Head Start only:
2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016
Funded Enrollment 26,790 26,492 26,556 26,209 22,773 24,069 N/A
Cumulative Enrollment 31,857 31,280 31,075 30,408 26,567 27,881 N/A
Eligible Enrollment 28,615 28,086 27,724 27,102 23,675 24,736 N/A

What doe this data tell you, exactly?

It tells us how well Head Start Region 1 is serving it’s eligible population. For 2014, there were about 60 funded Head Start slots for every 100 estimated eligible children, and Head Start programs in Region 1 enrolled about 88.7% of all eligible children.

It also tells us about enrollment trends over time. Across all programs in Head Start Region I, total funded enrollment has contracted by 9.1% over the 5 years between the 2011 and 2015 PIR. Cumulative enrollment is down 10.9% and the number of eligible children enrolled is down 12.1% over the same time period. This trend is less pronounced than the 22.5% drop in the estimated Head Start eligible population.

Region I data broken down

The data for Region I above was created by aggregating state level data. But it’s also useful to compare the states within Region I to one another to identify outliers and areas that are driving the trends we see at a regional level. If you were doing this sort of analysis for a smaller area, you might break down a county into it’s individual towns and cities; or a city into zip codes or census tracts.

Estimated Head Start eligible children by state in Region I

est_hs_graph

Estimated number of Head Start Eligible Children
1-Year ACS Derived Estimates
State 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Maine 5,353 5,163 6,083 6,566 4,284 6,126 3,751
Vermont 2,457 2,291 2,504 1,978 2,069 1,706 1,153
New Hampshire 4,035 3,670 3,119 2,958 2,726 4,030 2,631
Connecticut 11,061 10,736 11,343 9,771 8,386 8,158 8,888
Massachusetts 16,826 22,179 19,854 18,861 19,371 15,881 17,170
Rhode Island 2,689 3,866 4,814 3,094 3,521 4,301 3,404

Looking at the estimated number of Head Start eligible children by state within Region I shows that Connecticut and Massachusetts have the vast majority of eligible children. Though all states have declining eligible populations, Vermont and Maine have dropped at the fastest rate, losing 54% and 38.3% of their eligible population over the past 5 years.

Poverty rate for families with children under 5 by state in Region I

povertyrategraph
1-Year American Community Survey – Poverty Rate for Families with Children Under Age 5 – Table DP03
Poverty rate for families with children under 5
1-Year ACS – Table DP03
State 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Maine 18.8% 18.7% 22.9% 24.7% 16.8% 24.5% 14.7%
Vermont 19.0% 17.6% 20.4% 15.8% 17.2% 13.9% 9.6%
New Hampshire 13.6% 13.4% 11.6% 11.2% 10.3% 15.5% 10.3%
Connecticut 13.1% 13.4% 14.4% 12.6% 11.0% 10.7% 11.9%
Massachusetts 11.0% 15.1% 13.7% 12.9% 13.4% 10.9% 11.7%
Rhode Island 11.2% 17.0% 21.6% 13.9% 16.1% 19.6% 15.8%

The poverty rate for families with children under the age of 5 is typically the biggest factor that changes the estimated number of Head Start eligible children over time. Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have all shown very volatile poverty rates while Massachusetts and Connecticut have remained more steady. This is probably because Massachusetts and Connecticut are much larger by population. This results in a larger sample pool for the ACS to draw from and lower margins of error. Trends over time are important to keep in mind when you suspect high margins of error in your data. In this case, all 6 states have a 5 year downward trend in their poverty rate for young families. As with the estimated number of Head Start eligible children, Maine and Vermont have the biggest 5 year change for their poverty rate, dropping by 8.2 and 10.8 percentage points respectively.

Percent of the population under 5 by state in Region I

percent5_graph
Percentage of the Population Under Age 5 – 1-Year ACS – Table S0101
Percentage of population under 5
1-Year ACS – Table S0101
State 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Maine 5.4% 5.2% 5.0% 5.0% 4.8% 4.7% 4.8%
Vermont 5.2% 5.2% 4.9% 5.0% 4.8% 4.9% 4.8%
New Hampshire 5.6% 5.2% 5.1% 5.0% 5.0% 4.9% 4.8%
Connecticut 6.0% 5.6% 5.5% 5.4% 5.3% 5.3% 5.2%
Massachusetts 5.8% 5.6% 5.5% 5.5% 5.4% 5.4% 5.4%
Rhode Island 5.7% 5.4% 5.3% 5.3% 5.2% 5.2% 5.1%

Changes in the percentage of the population under the age of 5 have been less drastic than the other variables in this analysis. The states with the biggest change in this variable over the past 5 years are New Hampshire and Connecticut, each with a .3 point drop in the percentage of the population under the age of 5.

Conclusion and Next Steps

The estimated number of Head Start eligible children in Region I has steadily dropped since at least 2010, shrinking by 22.5%. Head Start programs in the region have still managed to enroll about 55 to 60% of this eligible population every year. Though total cumulative enrollment is also down, it has only dropped by 10.9% over the past 5 years, or half as fast as the drop in the eligible population. Vermont and Maine in particular have seen the largest declines in their Head Start eligible populations.

Next steps for Region 1 would be to compare state level PIR data on enrollment to ACS data. In particular it would be interesting to see the saturation of services in Vermont and Maine as well as their cumulative enrollment. It would also be beneficial to compare Region 1 to neighboring regions to provide context for enrollment levels, poverty rates and other data points.

This same analysis can be done on programs of any size. PIR data is available at the programmatic level, and ACS data is available down to the Census Tract level. Questions? Comments? Leave them in the comments or contact me!

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