US House Votes to Eliminate Major Source of Economic and Demographic Data

May 18, 2012 by

The American Community Survey is the only source of objective, consistent, and comprehensive information about the nation’s social, economic, and demographic characteristics down to the neighborhood level. It is integral to the foundation of our modern information-based economy. Business and industry use it to learn about labor markets and customers so they can decide where to expand, where to hire, and where to advertise. Local governments use it to assess traffic patterns, income, and poverty. Law enforcement uses it to make decisions and allocate limited resources to protect and serve. The ACS has nothing to do with politics. But last week, in a fit of ideological grandstanding, the House voted to abolish it. This foolish vote earned sharp criticism from a variety of voices:

The Washington Post provided context:

This is among the most shortsighted measures we have seen in this Congress, which is saying a lot…As James Madison argued around the time of the first census, collecting information on the socio-economic status of the population is one of those basic things that government is uniquely suited to do, and it benefits everyone.

The Wall Street Journal (gated) chided the House:

The ACS costs about $2.4 billion a decade, which is trivial compared with the growth it helps drive…The House action is like blaming the bathroom scale for your recent weight gain.

Sabrina Tavernese, writing at The Caucus Blog at The New York Times, highlighted the power of the survey and its importance in allocating federal and state funding:

The survey is valuable because it reaches nearly three million households every year, generating data that helps determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.

Matthew Philips, writing at Bloomberg Businessweek, found support for the ACS from conservative think tanks:

Contacted last week, economists at conservative think tanks Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation all expressed support for the data-gathering agencies since all three rely heavily on the statistics they produce to study the economy.

Senators Snowe and Collins and the rest of the Senate should defend the Census Bureau from this reckless attack by the House. How can anyone—in business or in government—make good decisions without good information?

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