Urban Wire Life without the American Community Survey: Driving blindfoldedRSS

May 11, 2012

Life without the American Community Survey: Driving blindfolded

May 11, 2012

Amendment to H.R. 5326: “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to conduct the survey, conducted by the Secretary of Commerce, commonly referred to as ‘the American Community Survey’.” Voting results: 232 in favor; 190 opposed. And so the House voted yesterday to eliminate funding for the one of the most important resources available to the nation’s public and to the corporate world. Life without the American Community Survey (ACS) would represent nothing short of a tragedy. Why, you ask? Read on.

U.S. society lives in the information age. Government and private industry function most effectively and efficiently when managing by fact. Even the congressmen who voted down the American Community Survey have staff who rely heavily on analyses of ACS data. ACS data is essentially the sample-based “long-form” information that used to be captured by the decennial census but is now captured annually. We’ve collected long-form information for over 200 years, since the late 1700s!

The nation deserves to know itself beyond simple counts of population, households, and a few demographics (sex, age, race/ethnicity). ACS fills that void, allowing government and business alike to create economic development plans, health policy, transportation plans, and housing and community development strategies, as well as to assess the impact of legislation (e.g., health, tax, corporate regulation) on business and the public, and so on. In short, a government needs to know its population to serve it, and businesses need to know their customers to be profitable. The absence of such knowledge is like driving with a blindfold—you have no information to guide you.

A world without ACS represents a huge societal step backwards. We, the people, deserve better.

As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Scholars are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.