The cost of ignorance

Added May 11th, 2012 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

This week the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-190 to eliminate all funding for the American Community Survey — the bedrock of a substantial body of information about child well-being, as well as overall population characteristics for every place in the country.

Five of the 10 key indicators monitored annually by the national KIDS COUNT project to evaluate child well-being in the states come from this survey. The survey collects data about poverty, employment, education, family status — many of the indicators used by communities to evaluate social and economic well-being. This information would no longer be available to track outcomes, guide public policy and assess community needs.

The vote was essentially along party lines, with all but 11 Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and all but four  Democrats voting against. (Michigan’s delegation voted along party lines.)

The amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill was sponsored by Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. It would also make response to the ACS voluntary by prohibiting the Census Bureau and the Justice Department from using funds to enforce penalties in the Census Act that make survey response mandatory. This policy would seriously undermine the reliability of the data. The Senate is expected to take up the FY2013 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill next week. Our senators need to know how much we care about keeping the ACS funded. (Click here to email Sen. Stabenow and click here for Sen. Levin.)

The ACS represented a huge step forward in making current data more readily available to decision makers at the local, state and federal levels. In 2010 the ACS replaced the traditional census “long form” previously distributed to a sample of census takers at the time of the decennial census. Previously the social and economic data from the long form was available once every 10 years, but the ACS is ongoing—administered every month to a sample throughout the nation.

As of 2010, the ACS data has been released annually for places in every corner of the nation–providing vital information about the fast-moving changes in our country and communities. The implications of eliminating such a resource are troubling. We all have a huge stake in this decision.

As all successful business leaders know, good data are key to making good decisions. Why should government be any different? In fact, business leaders also use census data to gauge social and economic trends to make decisions about location, product development and marketing.

As we move into the 21st century, we need to capitalize on its technology and tools to inform and strengthen the efficiency and capacity of our public institutions to improve the lives of our families and children. Without a solid base of information, how can we as citizens and our representatives in government be held accountable for the outcomes of public policy decisions?

— Jane Zehnder-Merrell

One Response to “The cost of ignorance”

  1. Sharon Parks says:

    Good blog Jane. Thank you.

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