We <3 the American Community Survey

Not infrequently, the Urban Initiative fields calls from local organizations trying to get their hands on data. Their questions have focused on issues like unemployment trends in Fall River, women’s earnings by educational attainment (which spawned one of our most popular blog posts yet), the methods with which people commute to work, and local poverty rates. Many times, our response is to provide these organizations with data from the American Community Survey, an ongoing effort to survey American households beyond the 10-year census to capture detailed information in real-time.

The ACS is a truly valuable tool for not just researchers, but also for organizations seeking to better understand their communities and government agencies charged with deciding how to distribute scarce dollars. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Check out this interesting video by the US Census Bureau on how Target parses this data to better address the needs of their retail customers:


So why do we bring this up? The House of Representatives recently passed a budget for the US Census Bureau that completely eliminates funding for the ACS. This was based on the premise that the ACS is invasive and obtrusive, an assertion disputed by nonpartisan policy researchers in this Washington City Paper article. This Washington Post piece also gives a concise summary of what’s going on, and here’s the response of the Census Bureau’s director.

What do you think? Can we live with out it? Does this present a unique opportunity for innovation when it comes to learning more about the nature of our communities, or would such efforts be cost prohibitive?

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