For all of you data junkies out there – as well as anyone who uses socioeconomic data for anything – are you getting tired of the assault on the American Community Survey (ACS) every year?
This May, it was taken to a new level when the House of Representatives first passed a bill making the ACS a voluntary survey, then deciding to eliminate the ACS completely the following week. Making the ACS voluntary would decrease the participation rate to a level that would essentially (e.g. statistically) make the data worthless considering the already small sample size. Only about 2.5 percent of the addresses in the nation receive the survey each year – hardly a tremendous burden on the American public.Either of the House actions would be disastrous to governments, businesses, non-profits and all data users that rely on quality, objective data to make sound decisions in a time of scarce resources. The Senate has not taken any action on the House decisions at this point.
For those who are unfamiliar with the ACS, it is an annual survey that replaces the long form questionnaire (last used in 2000) that was part of the decennial census. Updated information is now available every year on subjects such as children in poverty, educational attainment, disabled veterans and households with no vehicles available. Whereas this information was previously collected only once every 10 years, the ACS makes these important socio-economic data available in a timely and relevent manner.
More than $400 billion is allocated each year to states and communities based on ACS data. State and local governments as well as non-profit organizations use the data to make decisions about where to provide services for children, the elderly and veterans. Businesses use ACS data for determining where to open new shops and to find skilled workers.
The issue of the constitutionality of the ACS has been raised as a reason to not have to answer the questionnaire. The legality has been upheld by the courts numerous times. For more information on the legal authority of the American Community Survey see the U.S. Government Accountability Office decision in 2002.
Eliminating such an important data source used by businesses, economic development agencies, states, counties and towns throughout the country seems foolhardy, but we do live in unpredictable times. Stay tuned for additional information about how Maryland uses the ACS data and why certain questions are asked on the ACS survey.
More: see the Washington Post Editorial, “The American Community Survey is a count worth keeping,” May 15, 2012
- Census surveys provide information that we need – The Washington Post (drweb.typepad.com)
- The idiotic war on the American Community Survey (modeledbehavior.com)