A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

Our country faces important federal funding challenges linked to the current recession and its aftermath. On the Census Bureau’s part, we have been striving to cut administrative costs, reengineer our survey processes, and find innovative ways to squeeze every cent of taxpayer money we get. This is an important duty, I believe, we have as public servants, and I am proud of the hard work of my Census Bureau colleagues on this score. It is also my duty to inform the country of the impact of budgets on the scope and quality of the nonpartisan statistical information the Census Bureau provides.

This blog post provides information about the implications of the recent budget passed by the House of Representatives.

The Appropriations Bill eliminates the Economic Census, which measures the health of our economy. It terminates the American Community Survey, which produces the social and demographic information that monitors the impact of economic trends on communities throughout the country. It halts crucial development of ways to save money on the next decennial census. In the last three years the Census Bureau has reacted to budget and technological challenges by mounting aggressive operational efficiency programs to make these key statistical cornerstones of the country more cost efficient. Eliminating them halts all the progress to build 21st century statistical tools through those innovations. This bill thus devastates the nation’s statistical information about the status of the economy and the larger society.

The Economic Census
The 2012 Economic Census provides comprehensive information on the health of over 25 million businesses and 1,100 industries. It provides detailed industry and geographic source data for generating quarterly GDP estimates. The economic census is also the benchmark for measures of productivity, producer prices, and many of the nation’s principal economic indicators. At this moment, we are poised to request the key data from individual firms. We have already printed 7.5 million forms, and are preparing the October mailing and internet data collection infrastructure. Cancelling the 2012 Economic Census now wastes $226 million already expended on preparatory activities

The American Community Survey
The ACS is our country’s only source of small area estimates on social and demographic characteristics. Manufacturers and service sector firms use ACS to identify the income, education, and occupational skills of local labor markets they serve. Retail businesses use ACS to understand the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they locate their stores. Homebuilders and realtors understand the housing characteristics and the markets in their communities. Local communities use ACS to choose locations for new schools, hospitals, and fire stations. There is no substitute from the private sector for ACS small area estimates. Even if the funding problems were solved in the proposed budget, the House bill also bans enforcement of the mandatory nature of participation in the ACS; this alone would require at least $64 million more in funding to achieve the same precision of ACS estimates.

Building a More Efficient Population Census
In the last three years the Census Bureau has launched a transformation in survey and census designs. Both the ongoing economic and demographic surveys and the economic and demographic censuses will use the same technological infrastructure, to produce a leaner, more efficient 21st Century Census Bureau. The reduction in the 2020 Census request will not permit the Census Bureau to undertake the research and testing needed to build shared use of technical infrastructure and more efficient ways of conducting the next decennial census. It eliminates the anonymized public use sample file (PUMS), robbing the country of research discoveries from the 2010 Census by the private sector. The country will lose the chance to mount a 2020 Census at a lower cost per household than that of the 2010 Census.

Modern societies need current, detailed social and economic statistics; the US is losing them.

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101 Responses to A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country

  1. tom sanford says:

    The improvements you’ve achieved with the construction permit reporting – and with the last three Economic Census files – are way too many to even start to list in just a comment. You may remember the last time you had to handle the shut-down threats – 1994 – when you stopped reporting remodeling activity. I’ve had a constant flow of requests for those files ever since, up to and including this morning. If your company was ever in need of data with which to make a $150,000 fork lift purchase or placement decision, you’d have the picture – first hand.

  2. Jay Peterman says:

    The republicans do not want there to be any data to contradict redistricting to favor their candidates.

    They don’t want any tallies of minorities or the poor so they can be out of sight and out of mind.

    This is not about the budget.

    • Lloyd says:

      I don’t speak for republicans, but I don’t want the government collecting data just because it’s useful. That’s not the point, privacy is.

      • Steve says:

        Privacy is not an issue when the data is aggregated. The ACS does not connect data with individuals. I don’t think that protection of privacy extends to communities.

      • Mike says:

        The government is really interested in the race and ethnicity of the population of the US. The census should only collect the population count. Elected officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. They should serve all the people, not some more than others. The director of the Census only wants more money so he and others keep their jobs, that’s all. Count the people and make people count, not according to their race or ethnicity, but for being citizens of a Great Country!

        • Charlie Steinhice says:

          I work in the private sector, and we use Census information extensively for health care-related reasons. I am a firm supporter of the Constitution, but note that its preamble lays out the purposes of the document, one of which is “promote the general welfare.” If we limit Federal activity to specific tasks that could be performed in 1787, we are missing the point.

          • Tom Bodett says:

            I work in the private sector and I oppose the collection of this information. There is no allowance to collect any more information than has been specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The American Community Survey and the Economic Census are 100% government created “mission-creep” to keep bureaucrats employed… on our dime!

        • Peter P. says:

          I would leave out the motives of the Census Director, the Republicans, or any other parties to this issue. The cost/benefit question is all that matters, and the benefits of the huge Economic Census and ACS database to — literally — hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policy makers, etc., far outweighs the cost, which is but a few hundred million dollars. The Republicans, who have gone to apoplectic extremes to spend $4 TRILLION on nation-building campaigns to bring women’s and children’s rights and other hated ideas to Afghanistan and Iraq, simply have zero credibility when trying to justify cutting these Census Bureau programs in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

          • Tom Bodett says:

            There is no justification for spending millions on surveys which could be easily assembled using incentives for respondents (…ever heard of Facebook? I hear they’re more than eager to divulge just about anything there…). Forcing the population at large to serve special interests and businesses is exactly why government spending should be massively reduced across the board.

  3. patrick says:

    Perhaps the Census should make an ‘evaluation copy’ of their web-site showing what their data offerings would be limited to after the ACS and related programs are phased out.
    That way data users will have a chance to preview what the future may be like.
    Such a web-site should also include links for contacting your congressional representatives concerning the matter.

    • Russell says:

      “Patrick” ‘s idea of the Census Bureau making a demonstration preview of what their website would be without the data offerings being cut sounds to me to be a brilliant idea, and something that a US Government agency should do to lobby for its future.

    • Kermit says:

      I like that idea. Like the wikipedia blackout. And it would be easy to do….just unplug the server for a day.

    • Twila says:

      That’s an excellent idea!

    • Laura says:

      Patrick, that is an EXCELLENT suggestion. In city and county services; it is critical to reporting how we are doing; who we are serving in our communities; and how that relates to our entire community base.
      Posting a ‘preview’ website of things to come; will very likely WAKE UP the C’est la vie!

    • Connie says:

      I agree Partick! It is a good idea – they never know what they had until it is gone. I work for a state agency and we use the information constantly!! I can’t imagine our leadership will take this lightly.

      • Ann Marie says:

        Research for my dissertation requires census data. I could not imagine any legislative or policy study for the U.S. Government that did not have reference to this vital information. There would be no validity or reliability to critical studies that decide budget allocation to community services, like education, police, fire, and healthcare. What are they thinking? Think again!

  4. Jeff Martin says:

    How many people will lose their job by cutting these very important surveys.

  5. John Pitkin says:

    Fifteen or so years ago a congressman questioned the need to fund the Census Bureau, saying that he didn’t need the Census because he could just look up any information he needed from the Statistical Abstract.

    Did this bill pass because this guy or others like him are now in the majority?

    Or does the majority understand the cost of reliable data and prefer to do without it?

    • Katherine Shelfer says:

      For the less informed among visitors to this site, the Statistical Abstract provides Census (and other) data in digestible bites.

  6. JSBrown says:

    My agency has used the ACS for years. It’s been a vital tool that helps us identify the number of people with disabilities. We have used ACS data in local community forums to help leaders plan for future needs.

    I hope it continues.

  7. Scott Kearney says:

    The U.S. Census has morphed over the years into something that was not originally intended by Congress nor needed in this age. A decennial head count is what the focus should be and working with local governments to improve data and reduce costs. Many private companies provide quality marketing and demographic data.

    • Russell says:

      What makes the US Census Bureau’s products different from what private companies can offer is that they have the fiat of the US Government to force compliance with participation. While many people might strongly question whether this is an appropriate use of governmental authority, there’s little question that the end result is of better quality and more representative than it would be with only voluntary participation.

    • Jerzy says:

      Scott, with all due respect, this is not an either/or situation.
      (1) Private marketing/demographic data companies build their datasets by starting with Census Bureau data, such as the ACS. It is the baseline that allows them to get started in the first place.
      (2) Often a private company is indeed be the best partner for a local government, small company, etc. with a very focused question; or for a nationwide survey where detailed geographic breakdowns are not important. But sometimes you need a dataset that covers small geographic areas in the entire country at once, so you can compare the same variable everywhere. To do this, you need to ask the same questions so the answers are actually comparable from place to place, which means you need a single entity to coordinate the whole survey. I imagine it would only duplicate effort and costs for a private company to do this on the same scale as the ACS, given that the Census Bureau already has to have the infrastructure for a decennial census.

    • DM says:

      If you’ve ever looked into purchasing data from private companies you would know that it is very expensive and not really affordable for most people. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “working with local governments to improve data”, but I would wager that most local governments do not have the budget or technology to make any significant contribution to data gathering. It makes total sense to use a national statistical survey for this purpose – it has to be a lot cheaper for everyone.

    • Christopher says:

      That is true Steve. They obtain the info from the Census Bureau.

    • Katherine Shelfer says:

      Many private companies repackage Census data. Very few have the capacity or the willingness to collect it and none of them are motivated to correct their own mistakes, given the business model is to cannibalize and reuse it. Nor would they willingly provide it to the citizens who are unable to pay for it. Individuals and various government entities make quality of life decisions–for themselves and for others. The data are not something we can intuit and it takes more time that some of us have left on earth to dig through it. I am personally and professionally thankful for this particular government service, though I also wish the questions were less of a quest and the long forms were shorter.

  8. JC says:

    ACS is virtually worthless for rural communities. Between the moving 5-year average obscuring time-sensitive trends and non-disclosure leaving most categories blank, it’s worse than nothing. We’re few and far between, but we cover a lot of territory.

    • tag1555 says:

      JC – so call your Congressperson and demand they reinstate the long form for the decennial Census – that’s what the ACS replaced – or tell them to increase funding for the ACS sample so its size is big enough to support the topics you’re interested in adequately. Arguing that the ACS isn’t big enough for really small areas, so they should eliminate it completely, is nonsensical.

  9. Allen Leibee says:

    These folks complaining about losing valuable ecomomic data have no idea what
    they are talking about. Incredible bureaucratic bloat is what we are talking about.
    When making a small shipment of products out of the country, shippers formerly
    filed a simple, one page document with all the information the Government consideered necessary. Within the past three years this form has morphed into a three page monstrosity done online. It frequentlly suffers what the ACS refers to as “fatal errors’. So, the entire process must be started over again.
    A simple 20 minute project has been converted into another Government fiasco. . all for the sake of puffing up the bureaucracy.

    • D. Grey says:

      I too, process small shipments for export. I find the AES (Automatic Export System) a benefit for both my company and as a cost savings method for the Census Bureau. The information required is the same as was required for the paper forms. You just can’t send the shipment off with blanks in the form. The “fatal error” messages inform me when I have made an error (it is not an AES system error). These errors on a paper form would delay my shipment, causing inconvenience to me and my customers. Now I can correct the error before shipping so there are no delays. Moreover, the Census this has the data already entered in electronic format. The old paper forms required many more resources to enter the data. Thus the AES website is a money savings for the government, not a way to “puff up the bureaucracy.”

      If you are seeing repeated fatal errors, I suggest that you review the procedures and re-take the certification quiz. I have not had a fatal error in three years. Learn to use the tool and everyone benefits, you, your customers and the US taxpayer.

      • Edith Folta says:

        I also use the online AES, as do many in my export department. It is, as the commenter above noted, an exemplary way of making sure that documents are submitted without error prior to shipment. It does not require any additional data from the paper form, and in addition allows you to load customers and frequently-used shipments as templates. It is almost foolproof. The Census Bureau on the export side, and Customs and Border Protection on the import side, have been models in finding ways to streamline and share data while continuously improving.

        However, since so much of this data is used by the private sector, as indicated by the many responses here or elsewhere, how about a user’s fee? Municipalities and states could be exempted if the Congress so chose.

        • taxpayer says:

          Edith Folta, I don’t think the user fee would work. Government data is (or should be) public information, so by paying a single user fee I get the ability to give it to everybody. If the user fee was set high in recognition of this, a lot of data would be delayed until some wealthy person or entity wanted to see it. If, otoh, you restrict purchasers from reproducing data, you have created more jobs for attorneys.

          We all know there are plenty of other places to cut the budget without damaging the economy. (Which is not to say there’s no waste at the Census Bureau, but others would have more knowledge of that than I.)

  10. Cal Larson says:

    A comment that the Census Bureau has morphed over the years is hopefully true as when the Census Bureau was enacted in 1790 the Population was what 4 million and there was limited travel and movement as a whole. Over the centuries the constitution has “morphed” to reflect the needs of citizens, so it seems reasonable that the Census Bureau would need to change with the times to insure the accurate data that is and will continue to be relied on for our government and our business community.
    There are no “private” companies that have the ability to cover nationwide the full citizenry, in a timely manner, and have the ability to compile and distribute the gathered information. Which would leave the US in a black hole needing information
    on a nationwide platform, and instead having to rely on a piecework partial, regional availability. As well, most private companies are selected based on targeted groups of people, not based on a broad spectrum basis.

    • H. Caufield says:

      “There are no “private” companies that have the ability to cover nationwide the full citizenry…” Quite true. Those calling for the privatization of the census have no idea what goes into such an effort. Even if one could construct all of the infrastructure needed to carry out the mission, a private firm with a profit motive and built-in impetus for “short-cutting” will not produce the level of quality that is inherent in the Census Bureau’s data products. It is really quite simple: Leading nations measure themselves. Backward countries don’t (or they do so poorly and inaccurately).

  11. Christopher L. Snyder says:

    I was able to track my family history back to my great great great grandfather using census data. My history had gotten lost and confused. This helped me understand who I am and where I came from. Being in the PRESENT we are not able to predict how NOT collecting data today COULD POTENTIALLY help our Children’s children’s children benefit the same as I did during this period in human HIStory. WE should continue in the steps of the forefathers and CONTINUE to collect data that could help the FUTURE people. WE ARE NOT THE END of the LINE.

  12. LBJ says:

    Anyone advocating the elimination of the Economic Census must be doing so from a position of profound ignorance about how the economic and business statistical system of this country actually. Simply put, in many ways the census is the engine that drives the entire thing. In fact, those that know and understand this would argue that a once-every-5-years Economic Census may not even be frequent enough in the modern marketplace. If the 2012 effort is cancelled, the U.S. will not have reliable, trustworthy economic measures for the foreseeable future. With China, India, and other emerging nations poised to continue their assualt on global markets , ignorance regarding their own economy due to lack of information is not where the U.S. needs to be headed. That the House seems to have missed this point perhaps just underscores how far the leadership in this country has fallen.

  13. CVA says:

    Let’s ALSO not forget, as Jeff points out, that these two surveys employ thousands of people, literally, both government and contract workers. We are so concerned about job creation to bolster the economy, but willing to slash these jobs without a thought or even serious discussion. That is not participative or smart government.

    • Tax Payer says:

      Some ACS workers are employed by the CB without benefits, retirement, or health care. Just a paycheck for 20 – 30 hours each month. There has been a wage freeze on wages since 2010. There has been changes to how step and pay grade advances are given. Many $$$ are spent on this survey to re-interview the cases completed to be sure a worker really did do the job. It’s a shame that a sworn in employee can’t be trusted on this survey and re-interviews are deemed necessary. It’s the only survey where re-interviews are required.

  14. KevinB says:

    from above:
    “We have already printed 7.5 million forms, and are preparing the October mailing and internet data collection infrastructure. Cancelling the 2012 Economic Census now wastes $226 million already expended on preparatory activities”

    Why in gods name did you print 7.5 million forms? I don’t understand why you didn’t create 1 web page, or simply email a Ms Word to collect the data.
    How much were you then going to spend putting the data from those forms into electronic form?
    I think it’s high time that your budget is cut.
    Thank you, Congress for doing your job!

    • J. Alfred Prufrock says:

      They do have a web site and they do offer electronic reporting options. I’d assume that if they could do a purely paperless census and still get the response and quality needed then they would be doing it already. Required by law or not, the census just doesn’t put the fear of God in people the way the IRS does so they cannot really “force” a 100% electronic response census. Some businesses, especially, are not reachable over the internet or via e-mail. They don’t want anything from the outside world penetrating their own systems and they don’t allow their employees open access to everything out on the web. That said, there really is no reason to pre-print 7.5 million forms in this day and age. Instead, mail them something with the web site address of where they can report electronically or download pdfs that they can print on their own equipment. If those options don’t work for the company, provide a toll free number where they can request the forms be sent from census. The other thing to consider is the time and expense that the census spends in chasing down businesses that don’t report on time or do a poor job of completing the forms. I’d wager that a big chunk of change goes into those efforts– probably more than $226 million. So, if taxpayers really want to save some $ then they should complete the forms properly and on time. This is a savings that can be had immediately and without any input from Capitol Hill!

    • Concerned says:

      Kevin, you seem to be missing somethings in your internet only idea. 1) How in your plan is the Census going to know every business email address.
      2) Now answer truthfully: Would you even open an email that said, “This is a survey from the government”, & then would you open an email attachment? Not to mention would you or even a small percentage of businesses fill out a form online & give out important & sensitive personal &/or business details over the internet, with no way to prove if it was sent from the US or from Nigeria? I think 95% of businesses would think it is a hoax or an internet scam. The, maybe, 5% of employees that would open such an email, would most likely get reprimanded or fired by their bosses for falling for such an obvious scam & endangering the security of the company & their resources.
      3) So the time involved in first either mailing, calling or searching the internet to find the email addresses, then sending the emails & numerous reminder messages that: “This is not a scam, this really is from your government, & we want you to send us your information online”. Then having to follow-up with what could have been the first step, of simply mailing by US Postal service, where there is a post mark to show where mailed from & a verifiable return address.
      Now whose idea is better? yours? or the US Census Bureau’s, who has had years of experience in collecting the most accurate, confidential & cost effective data in the US & likely in the world?

  15. Hazel says:

    Keep the census, and get the workers out of the office and into the communities to train others how to use it.

  16. Randy L Knop says:

    Critical is the data developed by the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) to the citizens of this country but also to the continued development of commerce. The USCB plays a key role in the collection and sharing of information not otherwise available to the general public or small businesses who without such information are ill equipped to make informed decisions regarding their welfare and the impacts of their decisions.
    From a purely political point of view, I see this as yet another case of elected officials depriving a public agency of funding in order obtain greater control over the demographic data & other information (developed by the USCB), that empowers and thus is at times a supporting case for dissension for those who would rather we did not have the facts in the first place.

  17. thomas dart says:

    I much appreciate the intention and the rather lofty goals here, however show me some results- where you create value and economic growth- without commissioning another expensive study to justify your existence. My experience suggests this is another paperwork adventure without a meaningful return to our society. My sense is we should re-deploy the talent pool we are wasting here to a more productive endeavors -and I would presume they would find their lives a touch more satisfied. History is a great teacher as to the effective role of government and its limitations, and as a serious taxpayer I do not feel it is my obligation to pay for someone’s ability to trace their ‘roots’ using your data base. All the best and I mean to be constructive here- you have a role- however you have exceeded your mission at a cost to all of us-let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater-just rationalize your efforts and not build another -!!

    • Sherrie says:

      The Census data that is primarily used is not for the purpose of tracing family roots. The decennial Census now only collects information of those living within a household (age, sex, race and ethnicity), and then can provide housing data (type of unit). That’s it. If you are a foundation and wish to provide assistance to low income residents – where would that be? The long form collects data (American Community Survey or ACS) on so much more, such as income, plumbing facilities (which is always laughed at, but remember, there are still areas that go without), and many other variables that help determine where resources should be allocated. Any application for grant funding etc. asks for demographic data on the population you are targeting – where will that data be located? This is the reason why the ACS has grown – basically due to funding requirements in order to make sound decisions on resource allocation. We track changes in populations – where should you build up your infrastructure, mass transit, etc. if you have no idea of what is changing in the area? There can be proxies – you can look at the percentage of students receiving low income food benefits to try and target the low income of the general population, but what if the population is primarily elderly as we are reaching ever greater numbers of those above the age of 55 due to the baby boomer phenomenon? School data is not going to help with that! The population is complex, which is why the ACS is complex. I suppose what is missing is the education about what it is and why it is. As a daily consumer of the Census data I can tell it is about making sound policy decisions of resource allocation. There are no other comprehensive sources. Private companies use this as their baseline data, add a little extra value and resell it to others. Most governments can’t afford that, let alone pay consultants to collect the raw data to begin with and then conduct their research. A simple task such as strategic planning always begins with an environmental scan of what is changing in the environment – which begins with Census data. If the Census data is no longer collected I would be seriously concerned about the state of smaller governments in making informed decisions.

  18. Roger Thompson says:

    Simply outrageous that the house would pass such a bill, at the pace of change we might be better served by having a census every 5 years.

    • David Sobie says:

      This might not be a bad idea – might even cut costs if the ACS is done away with. Having one every 5-years will probably take a constitutional amendment. Who in our society has not benefited directly or indirectly from ACS data? Maybe more have benefited than we know. Is it possible to take certian things out (compromise) of the ACS instead of this all or nothing thinking?

  19. Bobby Bearden says:

    From ancient times, wise rulers understood you don’t kill the messenger because he brings you bad news. There are many examples of the disasters caused when leaders buried their heads in the sand rather than listen to truths that distressed them.

    The Greek historian Plutarch said : “The first messenger that gave notice of Lucullus’s coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man daring to bring further information, without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him…”.[

    “Attacking the messenger” is a subdivision of the ad hominem logical fallacy: an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.
    In this case, their cited argument is “too personal, asks how many flush toilets are in a home…”

  20. TERRY says:


    • Steve V says:

      There is no need to yell! Please understand that No personal information is published from these datasets whatsoever, so I do not understand why you think these generic questions are”invasive”. Furthermore, the elimination of the ACS will cause the Decennial Census to cost considerably more, which will result in INCREASING overall Census costs and will NOT save ANY money at all!

    • Barb C says:

      While this may be true, the alternative is worse.

  21. nbe1951 says:

    I’ve received one (ONE!) census form to fill out in my entire adult life – and I am 61, very mainstream. I even worked for the census at one point!!! So, how accurate and valuable can census stats be if they repeatedly miss folks like me?

    • Dan says:

      If you were a statistician you would understand that you do not have to get data from every single person in the country to get come up with reliable information.

  22. Rita G. says:

    Totally agree!! They have already done away with the CIR survey (Current Industrial Report) for manufacturers. Maybe because too many of them were no longer manufacturers but distributors, outsourcing their manufacturing.
    After hearing the House voted to do away with the ACS (American Community Survey) I googled Washington Post ACS and Huffington Post ACS and read the comments and I have never seen comments on any subject in such unison. All of the ones I read were in favor of keeping the ACS, hopefully the Senate will see the light.

  23. HAL says:

    I wonder if our government leaders and decision makers understand the value that the data the Census Buruea collects and reports has on their constituents and on them. Maybe we need to certify their knowledge before they vote on the various Bills presented to them?

    • J. Alfred Prufrock says:

      Something is seriously wrong here. Either census bureau advocacy is woefully ineffectual or the House is blatantly ignorant of the ramifications of its budget-slashing. I’m not naive enough to believe that our modern-day politicians are all up to snuff on every aspect of the bills on which they vote nor would I expect that most know how things actually work within their own government. However, I would think that at least some of them would have the common sense to ponder the impact of their decisions. This, of course, should then lead to discussion with those who are experts and who do know how things work. In this case, it would be census bureau management and advocates of their programs both from inside and outside the government. So, did this sort of interaction take place? If so, did the advocates simply not press the issue effectively enough? After all, someone must be able to explain the ripple effect of these budget cuts on the statistical system (in a bit more depth than what is in this blog posting). Or, did the House just choose to ignore the facts presented? Frankly, either scenario does not speak favorably for the government. If the House did digest the advocacy and chose to make the cuts anyway then, at a minimum, they need to explain how the country will measure itself effectively in the coming years– i.e., what is the alternative?

  24. DaNo says:

    This all started when soneone at the CB decided to use the ACS and ECON Census as a empty threat. Look how far it has gotten. Now the house voted on it. Stop using the ACS and ECON Census as a threat to Congress. “If you don’t play with me, I will take my toys home.” Taxpayers would save money if Congress would support our efforts and bring home the message to fill out the form rather then blast the Census.

  25. Gabe M says:

    Scott, with more respect than our congress men and women afford each other now a’days, I completely disagree with your assertion. Private community data is based on Census Bureau data. No accurate private data can exist without the Census Bureau’s data! And as far as not administering the ACS because it has morphed into something not originally intended by our “Founding Fathers”, are you serious? There are in infinite amount of current technological and social developments that were simply not in existence during the time of the Constitution’s birth. And there is no way that our Founding Father’s could have formed legislation in the past to incorporate the realities of the present. For heaven’s sake, telephone was not yet invented during George Washington’s military quests, much less the internet. It is our responsibility to honor the ideas and values set forth in the past, but also incorporate the ideas and technologies of the present that ENSURE the preservation of those ideas and values. The ACS is a tool that helps us, as a people, make informed decisions that keep us on a path towards prosperity, liberty, and justice. Arguing against the ACS in its current state is contradictory to American ideals.

  26. michael Burns says:

    The continued gutting of America

  27. DAB says:

    As an international freight forwarder for the past 34 years, I’ve never understood what value the “macro” data generated from export declarations could actually provide an individual business. I’ve also noted that probably 50% or more of the export declarations are incorrect. This exceedingly time-consuming “collection” procedure seems to often result in a “garbage in, garbage out scenario.” Perhaps the academics find the statistics useful, but what specific value is a “macro” statistic to a textile manufacturer that 8,324,910 pairs of socks were imported from Pakistan into the US in 2008? They know there’s a lot of foreign competition. How do such “macro” statistics help that company become more competitive?

    If the “economic census” (or any census reporting for that matter) is so valuable to the economy, do the policy makers really consider that information? Perhaps not, when evaluating the current economic conditions. Would we really be that much worse off if there were no “macro” statistics for the academics or Federal Reserve “analysts” to find comfort in looking at? My college macro exconomics professor was pretty much out of touch with the real world, but probably got exceedingly excited whenever a new Census report came out. Perhaps interesting reading knowing Pakistan makes 8% more socks than India, but how does that information help the average businessman?

    I doubt if there was ever a study done showing the cost to businesses to just collect this information (not to mention how many DC bureaucrats get paid to collect the data). The aggregate resulting “statistics” would seemingly only have intellectual “value” to macroeconomic professors and business “strategists” that write reports that eventually collect dust.

  28. steve herrington says:

    The reason given by the House by be lacking and over blown but the government needs to down size. That is what everyone has been doing for the past couple of years. IF things improve maybe more funds will be at hand to feel more free to put some offices back to size. When things are cut – everyone say ‘not in my back yard’. It is rough – live with it and hope that it improves. Maybe some real heavy waste in other departments of the gov. will come to light and we can just get rid of them.
    And it is not just the distrust of the government it is everyone is worried about how information is gathered. Yes the gov. may be the safest group for this data. But that does not make it easier.

    • Sherrie says:

      Downsize? What downsize? You’ve fallen for the Clinton/Gore smoke and mirrors. The employment has decreased, but spending has drastically increased. They just outsource everything (remember Gore’s reinventing government?) so now who is truly accountable? The federal government that is so small that it no longer has control over all of the contracts it has to manage? Try to find an actual NASA employee – they’re all consultants/civilian contract personnel.

  29. Lloyd says:

    or perhaps ‘the Census’ should return to their original purpose of simply counting citizens so the proper apportionment of representatives can take place?

  30. Bill says:

    Why should I as both a private citizen and taxpayer have to use my valuable time and taxes to benefit Target, Walmart or who-knows-what other commercial or government groups with my private information. Please don’t say it creates jobs, they could come anyway with commercial surveys. If my identity is kept secret, why do I risk a fine if I fail to respond? This is just more and bigger government and the people who work and pay taxes are tired of it. Worse, the statistics are filtered and twisted to show the results desired and not necessarily true circumstances.

    I know it is a different agency, but look at the “unemployment data” that only counts those receiving benefits and not those who are unemployed and have either run out of benefits or fail the eligibility test. Skewed data by government ‘surveys’ is routinely used by politicians to justify wasteful programs. I applaud the Congress for making this move and hope they match it in other areas as well.

    • Bob Loblaw says:

      As someone who is intimately familiar with the unemployment survey that the Census Bureau conducts on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, your comments above further underline how little people know about the work the Census Bureau does. The reason we conduct an unemployment survey is SPECIFICALLY to pick up people who don’t receive benefits because they have run out, or those who don’t qualify for them. Otherwise we could save everybody’s time and just pull the unemployment claims from state offices. As far as the eligibility test goes, should we now start counting stay-at-home men and women who have no interest in entering the workforce as unemployed?

      I can already gather it’s going to be a waste of time trying to convince you the data aren’t skewed and manipulated…

      • Bill says:

        Bob – If one were to “survey” all the points discussed here and put them into a meaningful context, I believe one would find a couple of common threads… Distrust of the government both as to purpose and results, and desperation on the part of government employees and contractors to keep their jobs associated with the Census Bureau.

        The results are not published in a meaningful report since they only push the U3 and not the U6 numbers – supposedly out of fear it would be ‘too depressing’ for most Americans whom the government has decided are not capable of any real analytical thinking.

        If there is real value in these numbers other than what the constitution requires, why not have those who determine that value pay for it? I may get some very indirect value, but I suspect that if this segment of taxpayer funded “service” went away, I would not see any increase in my costs or decrease in the availability of goods and services.

        My bottom line in this is that yes, I do not trust the bureaucracy (though I do not think that is irrational given many examples of security breaches and abuse under both Democratic and Republican political regimes), and no, I do not think I should have to pay taxes to support what should logically be a commercial enterprise.

        I hope that clarifies my position and puts a little depth into my comment.

  31. AJ says:

    Is this senator aware that a LOT of the information in the Statistical Abstract is provided by Census data products? Guess he’s never actually opened it, very clearly printed on each table is the data source…

  32. whasup says:

    I am not some sheep to be herded by government dogs, shorn of private information and left bleating in protest to no avail.

    Do you actually believe that ACS data would have helped in any way to plan for the disaster in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example? Please do explain how. Remember, just because economists and bureaucrats and marketers and large corporations and academics and news organizations want some information, that does not mean they have a right to it, or even need it.

    If they want such information, let them pay for it … and pay free citizens to give them our private, personal information!

  33. Greg says:

    “The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.” — Arthur C. Nielsen

  34. GM says:

    “People and Businesses use the data” is not really a good reason for the government to continue spending taxpayer dollars to fund these surveys. As mentioned in another article on the same topic, one CEO decries losing this data because “…the financial losses for the business far outweigh the cost of the survey…”. Well, great…f he needs the data, and it costs less to collect it than he would lose without it, he should pay for it. Perhaps all the businesses and other entities that actually USE this data should fund it.

    • Aaron Lercher says:

      Drawbacks to this suggestion:
      It makes the Census Bureau into a data collection agency working in response to business research requests. If businesses pay directly for research, this compromises the integrity of the research. Researchers will be motivated to deliver the results that the buyer wants, rather than correct results. Statisticians and other researchers with integrity will work elsewhere, further lowering the quality of work. There is a difference between the value of correct information and the market’s immediate perception of it.
      It creates new transaction costs by requiring a way to connect businesses with the research they want to fund. Since businesses would pay for the research, it would require putting up toll barriers to remove research from access by the general public. (Or else what would businesses be paying for?) We’re already seeing this, as the general public will no longer have access to the privatized edition of the Statistical Abstract.

  35. Bill says:

    Very well said! When was the last time we got “free stuff” from WalMart or GM?

  36. MWulfe says:

    If ever there was a time when the Census Bureau needed continuity of leadership, it is right now. Dr. Groves, please don’t leave!

  37. Barry says:

    Cutting the Statistical Abstract and the ACS is like burning the library at Alexandria.
    The most important uses of these data are to create an informed citizenry so they can make sound decisions. Uses for business are a secondary, but useful purpose.

  38. Laura Jordan says:

    The American Community Survey has been a godsend of a resource for my in-progress PhD thesis on working poverty, and has been especially helpful in allowing me to map out the geography of income inequality and racial segregation even within a single city. I am stunned and sad to hear that Congress has decided to terminate such a valuable means of tracking inequality in this country– especially at a time when inequality seems to be growing, and it becomes ever more crucial to have on hand information that would allow us to understand the unfolding nature of the problem and to address it.

  39. Brenda says:

    MWUlfe – I am so glad you spoke up and made this comment. I have worked at Census for over 20 years. Never in all my years have I seen a more dedicated and down to earth Director as I have seen in Dr. Groves. Dr. Groves has truely improved the way the Census Bureau does business. He has empowered the employee’s to make suggestions on how to improve processes and save costs. I have had several personal encounters with Dr. Groves just in passing. He has always made a point to speak to me even though we don’t really know each other. He makes me feel like I count. I really wish he wouldn’t leave. It will be a loss for all.

  40. Dennis Elias PhD says:

    I use these key demographic metrics in my practice on a regular basis for preparation to evaluate key features of the venire members eligible for recruitment as members of the jury for many different kinds of jury trials. The data is immeasurably useful and critical to a fair statistical sampling of what social, economic and educational factors represent those communities. The loss would preclude the ability of many litigants to gain insight into what makes up a representative jury… a right granted by the States in criminal and civil jury trials.

  41. Bk says:

    With regard to the voluntary nature of the survey,
    Can the IRS tax form have a check box asking question like
    “Do you want to participate in a survey that could
    decide how some of the tax dollars are spent?”.
    From those willing to do this, survey sampling
    may be done.

    • Bk says:

      Volunteer only survey is a bad idea
      given it might lead to a detoriating spiral
      of “less and less respondents” affecting quality.
      Appreciate all the posts after this.

    • Concerned says:

      That would not result in a random sampling would it. What about foreign speaking individuals? What about people that do not file taxes? What about illiterate people? What about illegal aliens? What about people that think they have something to hide, they wouldn’t volunteer to do a survey. The idea of getting accurate statistics, is the need to take random samplings. Your idea sounds great at first glance, but it would wipe out any chance for accurate random sampling of the that statistics.

    • jezzabel says:

      Many people already think the census is connected to the IRS. There are people who say audits remarkably follow doing a survey one or two years later.

  42. David says:

    Having less data is always bad. The key is to extract what’s important. By not having these data, you end up with incomplete information on which to act. This is disastrous from a strategic standpoint. Finally, these data may prove very useful years down the road. Romans kept very good logs of what was going on, and it proved very useful to historians. This seems like a nominal investment. Congress is worried about this stuff, which is peanuts, and they have no problem giving tax breaks to oil companies, and funding bloated projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

  43. John Brock says:

    The government wants the data, but doesn’t want it available to the public. The government can still get all the data it needs from other critical services it provides. However, the general public cannot. This is the public’s link to what makes up America. We need this data, we have a right to it.

  44. David says:

    Yeah we have a right. Yeah. It’s our right constitutional right.

    No, we don’t have a right. The constitution allows enumeration for the apportionment of representitives.

    The ACS has only been around for approximately 10 years, we did fine handing out government aid without the ACS .

    If people want demographic data they can pay for it.

    • Concerned says:

      The American Community Survey, the ACS, began in 1996, that is 16 years ago, & if you consider that it replaced the 1 in every 6 households getting the long form, then the additional data requirements have been around much longer. The information is just more current, & therefore more accurate with the ACS & the Economic Survey.
      I do not want my government hiding from the truth. “We The People”, should have the truth available to us. “We The People”, deserve to know the true state of our economy.
      I would not want to have a checkbook for my bank account, that could not have a balance visible to me. Oh, sure you say, the “bank” knows the balance & “they” know the situation. But I/”We” must stumble around in the dark. I don’t know if the next check I write will bounce, will I be overdrawn, will I be able to pay my bills today or tomorrow, or for my children’s tomorrow. The ACS tells us the financial health of our communities, based on the financial health of anonymous families & individuals, these make up the health of our states & ultimately the health of “Our” government. I personally, want to know what our bank account balance is now in the present & be able to use that knowledge to see what our future potential might look like.
      Knowledge is Power, no one can deny that. Knowledge brought us out of the Dark Ages. Do you want your government being the only ones having the knowledge, or do you want the knowledge to be available to the public?
      Don’t Let Them It Hide From You & Me! “We Are The People” and we have the right to know Our information! ACS & the Economic Survey are important. Congress what are you afraid of? What are they wanting to hide from you? I want access to our information! Don’t You?

  45. Dr. Michael Mitchell says:

    As a social scientist, I rely on the Census Bureau’s wealth of information to carry out my research, and I know many other social, physical and medical researchers depend on this data as well. Just think of every time you hear on the evening news “a new study found…” Much of the data for such research is facilitated by the Census Bureau. Cutting Census Bureau funding would be an enormous loss, not only for scholars and researchers, but for American society.

  46. William Beyers says:

    Both the Economic Census and the American Community Survey are absolutely essential measures that are required for state, local, and federal agencies to monitor economic and social activity in this country. Their elimination would cost us far more to make these needed measures without assurances of datara lack of knowledge of the
    value of these programs, and it should be immediately revoked by Congress.

  47. M.Vijayanunni,Ph.D, Former Census Commissioner & Registrar General of India says:

    Director Groves,it was a shock to hear about the House voting to abandon the ACS which is an excellent survey throwing up valuable data.As census commissioner of India,I would have been happy to introduce such a highly productive survey in my country too.
    As for the compulsions of economy,the data collection activities of the census are far too important to be sacrificed at the altar of budget cuts. Though the decennial population census is not constitutionally mandated in India unlike in the US,the census of India commenced in 1871 has been continued uninterrupted every ten years since then,and even the economy needs of world war II did not stand in the way of the conduct of the census in India in 1941. Such was the priority and importance attached to the census activity.Contemporary data not collected is lost forever.

  48. Debbie D says:

    The data you produce it is critical and if you don’t provide it many private companies will find a way. Why don’t you do the census online and safe money in other ways yet still have the data.


  49. jezzabel says:

    I think they should run like the post offices, 3 days a week. The surveys can easily be conducted on line on a secure server. I know a field worker and they make less than people working in a factory on a entry level. The people in the offices and supervisors all 6 or 8 tiers of them are the ones making the big piles. There is where a cut is needed.

  50. Allen Pierson says:

    I was always under the impression that the only survey required was the 10 year one. now you say that you needf my personal information like what time I leave for work, and my last 12 month’s wages, and the address of my employerae, and my wife’s information is required. You can get that from taxes. And as far as the number of rooms in the house, and how long we have lived there, it is none of your business. Stop the census, or face a revolt by your beloved people. We are tired of this invasion, when there is nothing being done to start and sustain new jobs, or health insurance. Get Real.

  51. Karen says:

    Since the beginning of time every civilized society has taken a count of its people. Heck Christ was born while in the mist of a count. But yet America feels it is not necessary. EVERY industry would suffer from the loss of this data obtained.

  52. Robin M. Hennelly says:

    This is an unfortunate and irresponsible circumstance.

  53. Robin M. Hennelly says:

    This is anunfortunate and irresponsible circumstance.

  54. F W Sasso says:

    This is a good start on getting rid of useless numbers and measurements that invade our privacy. We should move right ahead and ban all weights and measures, speedometers and radar detectors, fuel gauges, medical tests, gross domestic product, etc. etc. If we don’t measure crime, we wom’t have any. If we don’t measure diseases, we won’t have any. If we don’t track our economic performance, we won’t have any more depressions. This idea of measuring the state of the nation or the progress of the country over time only leads to dicovering problems that we don’t want to hear about and that cost too much to solve. If everyone would just take responsibility for theselves we could eliminate most taxes and the national debt. And, we would have more privacy than a lost neandrathal- if it weren’t for those nosy neighbors.

  55. Frank Sasso says:

    See original post.

  56. Paul says:

    I think a strong case can be made that the production and distribution of information and statistics is a natural monopoly where government provision is most efficient. This shouldn’t be viewed through a partisan lense, many conservative studies questioning the impact of liberal government programs purported to spur economic growth rely on data produced and publically released by the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. I believe that a Cato Institute study a few years back showing that states receiving stimulus dollars had no impact on economic growth relied on data from the Economic Census. Without hard data it would become much more difficult to refute any assertion on the impact of a government program: be it stimulus, economic development incentives, eminent domain or migration because of taxes. Information being widely distributed and free to all is necessary to keeping elected officials accountable.

  57. Rob says:

    As a Census Field Rep we would all lose our jobs. There are 1000s of retired people that work part time for the Census to supplement the SS or retirement. I will lose 75% of my workload and be left to look for a job at 60 years old. Anyone hiring? UGGG

  58. Anonymous Coward says:

    As a small business owner, I am already expected to periodically report to five government agencies for either regulatory or tax purposes at the state and federal levels. The economic census makes a sixth. The extent of the information required from each seems to increase every time. When does this end? I am barely making enough money to justify not quitting and getting a job in government. For crying out loud! It is challenging enough to compete in the marketplace. The regulatory prodding and poking is depressing for those of us without their own private bureaucracy to deal with all the self-preserving government bureaucrats. Here is a suggestion: require the economic census only for large bureaucratic firms.

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