Did you know that nearly 75% of Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania current residents were born in their respective states, but less than 40% of Alaska, Arizona, DC, and Florida residents were born there?
Or that, in 2010, DC was home to the highest percentage of same-sex couple households in the nation (just over 4%), while Wyoming was home to the lowest?
Or that Nevada, Idaho, and Rhode Island saw the largest increases in food stamp/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program help between 2009 and 2010?
Factoids like these are only a tiny bit of the information captured by the American Community Survey (ACS). Conducted every year by the Census Bureau, the ACS collects more in-depth information from a randomized sample of 3 million American households. NYT writer Catherine Rampbell explains that the ACS captures “how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.”
ACS data provides the nation’s policymakers, economic leaders, and budding city planners like me with the information on the conditions in which citizens are living, learning, and working. From the national to the neighborhood level, ACS data is an important indicator of well-being – most importantly showing us where investments must be made to improve the livelihoods of our fellow citizens.
Indeed, ACS data is used to determine the geographic distribution of over $400 billion in federal assistance – 30% of all federal assistance from GED class funding to housing rehabilitation loans to public transit planning. On the business side of things, ACS data is used to locate new manufacturing centers and stores, as well as determine the products created and sold. Target recently put out a video on how they use ACS data to more efficiently stock their shelves.
Despite the incredible use of such rich information captured in the simple 12-page document, House Republicans recently decided to eliminate funding for the 2013 ACS. First-term congressman Daniel Webster (R-FL) led the charge, explaining that the ACS “intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators.” (You know, those people protecting our environment and economy.) He further claimed that the cost of sending the survey to residents, following up with those residents if needed, and analyzing the information from the yearly survey is a pointless government expense. Finally, proving his moronic misunderstanding of statistical processes, Webster said that “in the end, this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.” (Which is what makes it scientific, if you haven’t buffed up on your statistics lately.)
Why Mr. Websters’ colleagues agreed with his misinformed argument and voted to eliminate funding is beyond me. But, if they are so opposed to the intrusiveness, cost, and supposed scientific inaccuracy of the ACS, maybe Mr. Webster – and I’m sure many of his colleagues – should remove the data from his website. Or maybe they should retake their high school civics and statistics classes.
Instead, House Republicans are on standby why the Senate reviews the funding legislation. Many predict that the Senate will not allow the ACS to be eliminated, but fear that representatives from the House and Senate will compromise on keeping the survey but making it voluntary (currently it is mandatory to complete). Such a move would not only necessitate additional follow ups (making the current ACS costly in the eyes of Mr. Webster), but would also collect bad data.
Conducted in some form since the time of Thomas Jefferson, the American Community Survey may be one of the most important tools our country has to make smart economic and policy decisions. Let your Representatives and Senators know you want the mandatory survey to be circulated annually by signing the petition HERE.