The Monkey Cage reports that US Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina) is trying to kill the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, a key source of data for government agencies, private firms deciding where to locate or expand their business, and newspapers that create those "How We Live" maps and charts that readers love.
Duncan's bill would seem to limit the Census to nothing more than a head count ("a decennial census may only collect information necessary for the tabulation of total population by states"). This is one of the GOP's less well-known examples of anti-science nuttery, but a similar bill actually passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last year. Economics reporter Catherine Rampell covered the issue in the New York Times last May:
“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.
“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”
In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.
Each year the Census Bureau polls a representative, randomized sample of about three million American households about demographics, habits, languages spoken, occupation, housing and various other categories. The resulting numbers are released without identifying individuals, and offer current demographic portraits of even the country’s tiniest communities.
It is the largest (and only) data set of its kind and is used across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities get for things like education and public health.
For example, a question on flush toilets — one that some politicians like to cite as being especially invasive — is used to help assess groundwater contamination for rural parts of the country that do not have modern waste disposal systems, according to the Census Bureau.
Law enforcement agencies have likewise used the data to predict criminal activities like methamphetamine production.