CHN: What They Don’t (Want to) Know Can Hurt You: House Votes to Eliminate Census Bureau’s American Community Survey
The American Community Survey (ACS) was approved by Congress more than a decade ago as the replacement for the decennial census long form. As a result, important information about income, poverty, housing, education, immigrant status, and much more is available on an annual basis. The ACS has a sample size big enough to provide reliable information down to small communities and congressional districts, with data usually available by race, ethnicity, language spoken, disability, and age. Despite its use by the private sector for business planning and in local, state, and federal government decisions, the House voted on May 9 to eliminate the survey entirely in a successful amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (H.R. 5326) (See the Roll Call vote here). The House action also cut Census Bureau funding by about $100 million.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL,) was passed 232-190, with 228 Republicans joined by 4 Democrats in favor, and 180 Democrats plus 10 Republicans opposed. The 4 Democrats voting to eliminate the survey were Boren (OK), Green (TX), Hochul (NY) and Kissell (NC). The 10 Republicans in opposition were Biggert (IL), Bilbray (CA), Dent (PA), Dold (IL), Gerlach (PA), Hayworth (NY), Gibson (NY), McHenry (NC), Thompson (PA), and Turner (OH).
Before voting to eliminate the survey altogether, the House voted to make participation in it voluntary. The Census Bureau had estimated that such an action would increase the cost of the American Community Survey by at least $64 million, since more outreach would be needed to ensure an adequate sample size.
Opponents of the survey objected to government intrusion to collect data beyond the decennial count of people. Proponents, including business groups, school districts, and researchers, are likely to find supporters in the Senate, which is expected to continue the ACS. Still, advocates are concerned that negotiations might whittle down Census funding or take other steps to jeopardize the effectiveness of the survey.