U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office
A proposal approved by House Republicans that would do away with an annual study of socioeconomic conditions in the United States may make it difficult for government and business officials to adequately serve the poor.
The Senate is now considering whether to discontinue the American Community Survey, which is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey program collects economic, demographic and housing data from close to 3 million households every year.
Those who wish to do away with the survey argue the questions violate Americans' privacy.
"Given the intrusive nature of some of these questions, which are mandatory for Americans to answer under penalty of law, it would seem that these questions hardly fit the scope of what was intended or required by the Constitution," Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida, told Congress last week.
Cutting funding for the survey program could save taxpayers as much as $2.4 billion over the next 10 years.
But without the statistics, some worry state legislators, city planners and other government officials will be working in the dark. Academics, who rely on data to conduct studies, are particularly concerned.
On a federal level, officials use information from the survey to allocate benefits like Medicaid. On the local level, the survey helps community leaders know how many people are living in poverty, how many families don't have health insurance and how many people are disabled, Robert Moffitt, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told CNN. The data also help officials locate areas where poverty is concentrated so they can focus resources on fighting crime, poor health conditions and underperforming public schools.
"If you're opposed to the survey, you're opposed to understanding what's going on in America," MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, told CNN. He is the director of the Program on Health Care Research at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Some agencies that ordinarily support big fiscal funding cuts have spoken out in support of the American Community Survey, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Because its members rely on the survey for data about things like per capita income and household spending, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocates funding the study.
“It is especially important to some of our bigger members for trying to understand geographic distinctions and other granularity in the economy,” Martin Regalia, chief economist at the chamber, told Bloomberg.
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