The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which collects data on 3 million households a year, helps federal and state governments target billions of dollars in funding to struggling families and communities and is a critical tool for anti-poverty advocates and researchers. So last week when the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Tea Party-backed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), voted to eliminate funding for the ACS it was no surprise that government agencies and progressive-leaning groups stood up in protest.
Less predictable was the reaction from the business community, which decried the House action as essentially bad business.
In a piece last week in BloombergBusinessweek, Martin Regalia, chief economist for the Chamber of Commerce, said the organization supports funding the ACS and the other government data-gathering agencies because of the critical demographic information they provide businesses. Tom Beers, executive director of the National Association of Business Economists, said that without the kind of data provided by ACS businesses would be “flying blind.”
The Census Bureau unleashed a video featuring executives from Target espousing the importance of ACS data in determining where to open stores and what merchandise to stock.
Webster, who believes that ACS is unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy, took his action following an initial move by the House to repeal the requirement that makes it mandatory for people to fill out the survey. While the Senate is unlikely to support elimination of the ACS, some political observers believe the House GOP could use the funding cuts as a bargaining chip to get the Senate to support making the ACS voluntary – a move the Census Bureau has said would force them to collect data manually, driving up costs.
At Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, we are in the business of gathering reliable research, news, analysis and data so that all of us can make informed choices about how to end poverty and promote opportunity. In that spirit we hope that the important task of collecting reliable statistics doesn’t fall victim to yet another partisan squabble. As the BloombergBusinessweek piece pointed out, conservative think tanks support the government’s data-gathering efforts since they need that information to produce their own research. “The data they provide really tell us what’s going on in the economy,” said Phillip Swagel, an economist and nonresident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “This shouldn’t be a political issue.”
Posted by Amy
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