Having an ACS or Census Long Form takes a lot of hits in media and on
Capital Hill. However, it is always instructive to hear from another
side. I snagged this from another list I am on and thought a few here
would enjoy it.
Posted: 13 Nov 2013 10:59 AM PST
by Terri Ann Lowenthal
Let me start with a timely salute to our nation’s veterans. All 21
million of them, including 2.4 million African American and 1.2 million
Hispanic former service members. Shout-outs to Killeen, Texas, and
Clarksville, Tennessee, where veterans comprise a quarter or more of
local residents. Hats off to the more than nine in ten veterans with a
high school diploma — a greater proportion than the general population.
And is it any wonder that these patriotic fellow citizens are twice as
likely as non-veterans to hold a job in public administration?
Oh, sorry, I digress from the focus of this blog. But really, people,
it’s important that we know this stuff — and more — about those who
defend our freedoms. About three-quarters of our living military
veterans served worldwide while the country was at war. More than a
quarter of both Gulf War and post-9/11 era vets live with a
service-connected disability. Nearly 30 percent of veterans reside in
rural areas, but rural vets represent 41 percent of those enrolled in
the VA health care system. Veterans in rural communities are more likely
to have at least one disability compared to non-veteran rural dwellers.
Raise your hand if you know where I’m going with this. That’s right: a
lot of what we know about our veterans comes from the Census Bureau’s
American Community Survey (ACS). Businesses, nonprofits, and federal,
state and local leaders use ACS data to understand and address the needs
of veterans — from job training and employment assistance, to health
care, to housing, and more. Who among us wouldn’t want that for our
So why, oh why, in the words of Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), sponsor of a
bill to cancel the ACS (and just about every other Census Bureau
program), are Americans “fed up with these mandatory census surveys and
[they’re] asking us to stop the harassment”?
Ummm, no, they’re not. Okay, maybe a few are grumbling. According to the
Census Bureau’s new cheerleader for harassed Americans (officially
called the Respondent Advocate), roughly 60 percent of households answer
the ACS without any prodding at all. With a little encouragement and
explanation, by phone or in person, the response rate jumps to 97+
percent (weighted). Of the 3.54 million households in the 2012 ACS
sample, less than 8,000 refused to participate (and no one, I can assure
you, was hauled off to jail). Let’s see: that’s a refusal rate of
(drumroll) two-tenths of a percent. The 535 members of Congress were so
deluged with anti-ACS complaints that they sent the bureau (another
drumroll, please) 187 letters on behalf of distraught constituents over
the past 18 months.
Sure, the ACS questions could use a systematic review and some
fine-tuning; thorough training will help ensure positive interaction
between survey takers and responding householders. I suspect the Census
Bureau has been a little behind the eight ball in acknowledging
thoughtful concerns about parts of the survey; it’s finally on the right
track, I think. More on these efforts in my next blog.
But let’s stop pretending: ACS critics aren’t falling on their data
swords for countless (no pun intended, census fans!) Americans abiding
stoically in the shadow of government overreach. Ideology — namely, a
belief that government can require little of the governed, coupled with
an aversion to the sort of federal assistance dispensed on the basis of
ACS data — is driving the campaign to weaken (with voluntary response)
or eliminate the survey.
And that’s okay. (Yes, you read that correctly.) If you don’t believe
that government has a fundamental interest in producing objective,
comprehensive data to inform and guide decision-making, go ahead and
make your case. Explain and defend the consequences or propose a
practical alternative. Just please drop the cover of phantom citizens
cowering behind mailboxes, dreading a nosy questionnaire and the
prospect of devoting an hour of time to help the world’s greatest
democracy function smartly. Most Americans, it seems, are wiser than you
think. And they all love our veterans.
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