Vox on the ACS: “This is the most important survey in America, but it keeps getting defunded”

December 4, 2015 - 1 minute read

Alvin Chang of Vox Media explains how the American Community Survey gives us some of the best data on characteristics of the population:

Imagine that you’re in a helicopter, looking down at America. In this scenario, you have super vision, so the people look like 320 million little dots. The decennial census helps you see basic traits, like how old those dots are and what race they identify as.

But what if you wanted to know how long each person’s commute was? That’s not on the decennial census. In fact, a lot of very important questions aren’t on the census but were moved to the ACS. But ACS doesn’t count everyone. Instead, it surveys 3.5 million people each year — and it tries to estimate other things (like commute length) based on that small population.

The ability of the ACS to provide this timely data accurately requires strong funding from Congress, and proposed budget cuts threaten this unique resource:

The ACS is still around, but the House has cut the Census Bureau’s budget and voted to make the ACS voluntary. Poor response rates are a notorious problem with voluntary studies. That said, studies show voluntary surveys tend to underrepresent the wealthy, educated, and mobile populations.

Minnesotans for the American Community Survey will continue to monitor these on-going challenges and advocate for full-funding of the ACS and Census 2020.