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Save the American Community Survey

posted by Bob Lawless

The Credit Slips blog always has tried to offer perspectives from many different social sciences. That is why many readers may be distressed to learn of the attack on the American Community Survey (ACS). If you do not do a lot of social science work, you may not be familiar with the ACS. It is an arm of the Census Bureau that provides all sorts of information about what is happening in the United States. For example, did you know that people with a college degree live, on average, about two minutes further away from their workplace? At 30 MPH, that would be one mile further away. This small fact from the ACS, which we use as an example in our empirical methods book, might tell us a lot about the structure of cities and social stratification. And, this example is a poor one because it undersells the important data in the ACS on everything from income to drug use. I have used the ACS in my work to get information on consumer financial conditions in various states. There are all sorts of uses for these data in governmental, academic, and business circles.

Dollar for dollar, the ACS may be one of the most effective federal programs we have. Now, it is under attack from congressional Republicans. The House has recently passed legislation that would end funding for the ACS. What little thinking has gone into this initiative seems to believe that the ACS is an unwarranted government intrusion in people's lives. The ACS data are confidential and only reported in the aggregate. The ACS is very similar to the Census. In fact, it is run by the Census, but that does not matter to the know-nothings after the ACS because they are also after the constitutionally mandated Census.

The ACS attack is just the latest initiative from the tinfoil-hat crowd. In one of the dumbest statements ever uttered by a member of Congress, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) was quoted as saying, . . . in the end, this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey." Referring to his attack on the ACS, Rep. Webster also proudly pointed out: “These are the kinds of things I was sent to Congress to take care of." From his actions and words, Rep. Webster must believe that his constituents sent him to Congress to make statements displaying a lack of any knowledge about basic principles of mathematics and to kill cost-effective programs that help government and business.

The people who read and comment on this blog are a diverse set of people with a wide range of views on consumer indebtedness. The conversations we have, however, proceed from a respect for facts. Now would be a good time to tell your senator that you want the ACS to continue providing data to help fact-based policy discussions here and elsewhere.


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