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CBPP, AEI Researchers Agree: Don’t Cripple Census

The American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) Andrew Biggs and I are together urging the Senate to adequately fund Census Bureau preparations for the 2020 census and maintain the mandatory nature of the American Community Survey (ACS), the main source of annual demographic data for understanding and responding to state and local needs.

Although our organizations frequently disagree on policy matters, Andrew and I strongly agree that policymakers and businesses can't make good decisions without good data, as we explained in a joint letter to key senators.   A score of other organizations, including the American Statistical Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, have also urged the Senate to adequately fund the Bureau and maintain the ACS.

I explained last week that the Census funding bill then before the House didn’t provide enough funds to gear up for the census and could eventually cost taxpayers billions by undercutting planned cost-saving measures.  The bill the House ultimately passed was even worse. 

The House-passed bill cut the Bureau’s budget, leaving the budget area that covers the census and ACS 40 percent below what the Bureau says it needs next year to prepare for 2020 and meet its other responsibilities.  The bill also critically weakened the ACS by making participation voluntary, which would lower the response rate significantly and seriously diminish the quality of ACS data. 

The ACS is the nation’s main source of state and local data on household income, poverty, race, affordable housing, state-to-state migration, immigration, disabilities of local residents, and many other topics.  The federal government uses it to distribute more than $400 billion each year, and the information helps communities and businesses decide where to build roads, bridges, schools, homes, and stores.

The House’s ill-considered changes led to our joint letter.  As we wrote:

No policy or philosophical outlook is well-served by a lack of accurate data.  The alternative to accurate, detailed data on American households is policy-by-anecdote, in which lawmakers respond to perceived needs without data on how large or widespread a problem might be.  Such a process would spend federal funds neither effectively nor wisely.

For these reasons, we urge you to provide adequate funding for the census and maintain the mandatory nature of the ACS.