House Votes to Eliminate American Community Survey

Rep. Daniel Webster, author of the measure to eliminate the census American Community Survey. Photo: AP via Huffington Post

The U.S. House of Representatives voted (232 – 190) on Wednesday to eliminate funding for the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which collects socioeconomic data that is used to determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services.

The American Community Survey collects data that was, until 2005, collected by the “long-form” decennial census; the change was made to modernize the census and make its data timelier by collecting it more frequently.

D3’s Kurt Metzger has this to say about the issue:

The potential elimination of the American Community Survey raises the potential of adding one more nail to the Federal Government data coffin.  In an era when the internet and private data mining is of great concern to the public at large, data collection, development and distribution at the Federal and State levels continues to be ratcheted back. When the Census Bureau first began the transition from the long form that had always been part of the Census to the ACS, many stakeholders, including yours truly, were worried that decoupling the long form from the census would put the data collection at risk.  That worry is now becoming a reality.  The ACS, though it has many problems associated, is now an annual source of detailed social, economic and housing data for states and large cities, counties and townships.  Smaller geographies are relegated to 3- and 5-year aggregations (a source of confusion and sampling error, but regularly updated nonetheless).  This flow of information must not be stopped by  pennywise and pound foolish political posturing.

D3 believes that change happens at the neighborhood level – Place Matters!  We must retain every available source of information at that level and we must strive to develop new data sources.  We protest any move to cut back on the few sources we have today, while we seek to cajole the powers that be at all levels of government to expand access and transparency.  Good decisions require up-to-date data.

The Huffington Post reports:

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who ran the floor debate for Democrats, seemed especially vexed.

“We’ve been doing surveys in the long form since 1790 as a nation,” Fattah said, referring to the time when Thomas Jefferson oversaw the census. “It’s critically important. The idea that we’re going to leave the greatest country in the world with less information about the condition of communities and of our families — and that we’re going to do that appropriately — defies logic.”

Republicans remarked on their skepticism of a government survey that asks, among other things, whether a household has flush toilets. However, even those seemingly odd questions generate important results: Oregon Live  reported last year about an inexplicable rise in the number of homes without indoor plumbing. Reporters brought the figures to the attention of puzzled state building inspectors, who presumably otherwise would have been ignorant of growing violations of statewide building codes requiring indoor plumbing in all units.

The Association of Public Data Users issued a statement in response to the vote, stating that “The outcome of this vote demonstrates the importance of proactivity among data users in conveying their support for the ACS and other surveys to all members of the House and Senate.”

For more on the constitutionality of the American Community Survey, check out Wade Henderson’s defense at the Hill’s Congress Blog.

(via Terri Ann Lowenthal)