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A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country

Fri May 11 2012
Robert Groves
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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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