Congress Learns More About the Importance of the American Community Survey


Funding for the Census Bureau and ACS has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill lately.  Congress is considering making responses to the survey voluntary (currently they are mandatory by law), eliminating questions from the survey that are considered too nosy, and even eliminating the survey entirely.

On May 27, the Census Project, a network of organizations advocating for Census programs, held a briefing for Congressional leaders and their staff on the American Community Survey in the Capitol Visitors Center. The panel providing insights on the importance of the ACS included representatives from business organizations, survey researchers, civil rights advocacy, and local government. Twenty-one organizations (including APDU) co-sponsored the event.

ACS is notable because it has typically drawn bipartisan support, and the private sector simply cannot replicate the power of the ACS.  Larry Jones of the U.S. Conference of Mayors noted the importance that ACS lays in helping to allocate $415 billion of federal funding, not to mention the state and local funding dependent on ACS counts. Chris Gerlach of the International Council of Shopping Centers highlighted ACS’s role in guiding U.S. real estate investment strategies.  Without it, businesses of all sizes would not have the data to guide business investments, commercial lending, and new site locations. Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice noted the role of ACS in helping to assess progress in civil rights and in ensuring that the U.S. can enforce key legislative provisions such as the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act. At the same time, Howard Fienberg of the Marketing Research Association explained why the federal government must take on the task of conducting the survey.  He noted that it is simply not possible for the private sector to obtain as broad a statistical sample and that even the best voluntary survey would leave about 40 percent of US counties without reliable data because so many fewer people would respond.

The briefing illustrated the strong and diverse constituency supporting the ACS. More importantly, it demonstrated the vital role that this simple data program has in all aspects of American life and why Congress should ensure that it remains a high quality resource for the American people.