The American Community Survey is a project of the Census Bureau that collects demographic, economic, and other data from a random sampling of addresses in the United States and Puerto Rico on a regular basis. It informs decision making by government and business, and supports a variety of journalistic endeavors. It is also under attack by the United States House of Representatives.
Data from the survey helped inform a December 2010 New York Times analysis of population trends in the New York region. The piece, much of which would not have been possible to write without the data released by the Census Bureau, found that minority populations are rapidly expanding in the suburbs, while whites are moving back into denser urban neighborhoods.
The ACS, and the type of analysis that it enables, has wide appeal. In addition to journalists, the ACS is valuable to governments trying to allocate funds and provide essential services as well as businesses deciding where to locate, advertise and ship their products. ACS data is updated on a yearly basis, making it more dynamic and potentially useful than normal census data.
For example, Target uses ACS data to understand changing demographics at their urban, suburban and rural locations. They use this analysis to stock their stores more efficiently and effectively. Meanwhile, academics in Portland, OR used ACS data to analyze and predict enrollment trends in Portland Public Schools. This sort of insight can help school systems allocate funding and other resources in a more effective manner.
The ACS has the support of business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation, community planners, librarians and a range of non-profit groups organizations.
However, the House of Representatives recently voted to defund the survey, arguing that it is an “intrusive...inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” Proponents of the survey contend that the data provides valuable insight about the state of the American economy and gives the US government and businesses a leg up over other nations that do not collect such detailed data.
Funding for the ACS is included in the appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science programs. The Senate is expected to take up the bill soon. While it is unlikely to fully defund the ACS entirely, it may agree to a compromise with the House that will make the survey voluntary, a move experts say would increase its cost and lower the quality of its data.
The Joint Economic Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday, June 19th to explore the economic impact of ending or reducing funding for the ACS.
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