Why the American Community Survey is worth keeping

Posted to Statistics  |  Nathan Yau

Jerzy Wieczorek, a statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau, explains why the American Community Survey is worthwhile.

Besides the direct estimates from the ACS itself, the Census Bureau uses ACS data as the backbone of several other programs. For example, the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program provides annual data to the Department of Education for use in allocating funds to school districts, based on local counts and rates of children in poverty. Without the ACS we would be limited to using smaller surveys (and thus less accurate information about poverty in each school district) or older data (which can become outdated within a few years, such as during the recent recession). Either way, it would hurt our ability to allocate resources fairly to schoolchildren nationwide.

Similarly, the Census Bureau uses the ACS to produce other timely small-area estimates required by Congressional legislation or requested by other agencies: the number of people with health insurance, people with disabilities, minority language speakers, etc. The legislation requires a data source like the ACS not only so that it can be carried out well, but also so its progress can be monitored.


  • Perhaps some of the motivation behind the canceling of the survey by some congressman is to block just such funds from being spent. Yeah , I know, my conspiratorial side is coming out. But just maybe. I agree, it would be a shame not to have the data.

  • There is no need to assume conspiracy when shortsightedness and complexity will suffice.
    Legislators have to decide on a ridiculous number of issues, and will make the entirely wrong calls sometimes (as I believe they have in this case). And, while conspiracies can and do exist, I’m continually impressed with how often the complexity of our legislative systems can overwhelm even the most well-meaning official. In other words, if it’s difficult to know what the right call is, your odds of making that right call may be 50/50 at best, less so if there is effective lobbying.

  • Remember the outcry surrounding SOPA? Can data folks mobilize in the same way? What other important data sources will get put on the cutting block?


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