City Desk

Wonks: House Plan To Get Rid Of American Community Survey “Absolutely Terrible”

On Wednesday night, the Republican-controlled House approved the U.S. Census Bureau budget with one big change: GOPers voted to eliminate funding for the annual American Community Survey on the grounds that it's not required by the Constitution and is an invasion of privacy.

"It's an absolutely terrible decision—it's terribly shortsighted," says David Cooper, an economic analyst at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.

And sure, a number-cruncher would say that. But why should you care? Well, here's how the Census Bureau describes the survey:

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year — giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.

What this means: The ACS is a crucial resource for anyone interested in the distribution of federal dollars and local trends. (Like, say, demographic shifts in D.C. neighborhoods!)

"The ACS is a really powerful survey because it has a huge sample size," Cooper says. "The sample size is 2.9 million households. Because it engages such a large swath of the population, it lets you analyze trends, even in small states."

Without the ACS, states like North Dakota and Rhode Island—and non-states like our dear District—would have to rely on the (less detailed) data that comes out every 10 years from the decennial U.S. Census.

And, even more importantly for D.C., it collects data on where people work, not just where they live. That means it provides useful stats on the impact of policies in a town like ours, where hundreds of thousands of people commute from Maryland and Virginia to work. The only comparable survey to the ACS is the Current Population Survey—but its sample size is considerably smaller and the data is far less granular.

"Without [the ACS] we really wouldn't have a reliable way to look at income, poverty, and housing costs on the state level," says Jenny Reed of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Is there any merit to the privacy claim? Both Reed and Cooper say no. "There's all sorts of privacy controls," Cooper says. "Information is top-coded so you can't identify people."

Of course, this makes us think of another trend: All the crazy legislation the House just can't seem to sneak past the Senate. Which means it's really unlikely the ACS will go anywhere.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post originally stated that responding to the ACS is not mandatory. It is mandatory. Though you probably won't go to jail if you don't respond.

Photo by jcolman via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Comments

  1. #1

    FYI, the information is top-CODED, not coated. Although data coating is a pretty fun mental image, too. Here's some info on how that works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top-coded

  2. #2

    Uh, the ACS is absolutely mandatory. I don't think anyone's every been fined or imprisoned for not doing it, but it is mandatory.
    Good piece, but that's a pretty crucial fact to get wrong.

  3. #3

    @Rebecca -- snap, you're right. (thanks for the link.)

    @Mario -- word, fixing.

  4. #4

    We didn't need a WCP article to tell us that legislation passed by the current House majority is ridiculously stupid.

  5. #5

    Yes, this survey is totally an invasion of our privacy. The survey is 27 pages in length and it's nobody's business the particulars of our household, especially the US Govt. We do recognize our Constitutional commitment to completing the 10 year census; anything beyond that is not Constitutional.

    There isn't any money left for the Feds to dole out, we're broke or hasn't anyone heard that? So, the US Govt has no need for this information and should stay out of our business.

Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...