ZIP Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTAs) are a statistical entity developed by the United States Census Bureau for tabulating summary statistics from Census 2000. This new entity was developed to overcome the difficulties in precisely defining the land area covered by each ZIP code. Defining the extent of an area is necessary in order to accurately tabulate census data for that area.
ZCTAs are generalized area representations of United States Postal Service (USPS) ZIP code service areas, but are not the same as ZIP codes. Because individual USPS ZIP codes can cross state, place, county, census tract, census block group and census block boundaries, the Census Bureau asserts that "there is no correlation between ZIP codes and Census Bureau geography." Moreover, the USPS frequently realigns, merges, or splits ZIP codes to meet changing needs. These changes are usually not reflected in the annual TIGER releases. Each ZCTA is constructed by aggregating the Census 2000 blocks whose addresses use a given ZIP code. In assembling census statistical units to create ZCTAs, the Census Bureau took the ZIP code used by the majority of addresses in each census unit at the time the data was compiled. As a result, some addresses end up with a ZCTA code that is different from their ZIP code. ZCTAs are not developed for ZIP codes that comprise only a small number of addresses. Several ZCTAs represent ZIPs that no longer exist due to realignment by the USPS.