More on the Idea of a Voluntary ACS

Most of the articles below oppose H.R. 931, which would make response to the ACS voluntary.

A separate entry provides links to an organization in favor of H.R. 931. It is against most everything the Census Bureau does: have a mandatory ACS and counting non-citizens in the Census. They are in favor of using the Census to round up the undocumented population.

Imagining a Census Survey Without a Mandate
Carl Bialik | The Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2012

Census Gets Questions on Mandatory Queries
Carl Bialik | The Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2012

The Census Bureau does more than count all Americans every 10 years. It also runs hundreds of other surveys in between. But Americans are only obligated by federal law to participate in the once-a-decade headcount and a massive, continuous data-collection effort known as the American Community Survey.

The ACS will reach 3.5 million households this year, using dozens of detailed questions—including asking about a household’s use of flush toilets, wood fuel and carpools—to determine the need for various government programs. The survey’s mandatory status, along with telephone and in-person follow-ups to initial mailings, helps keep response rates near 100%.

Now, 60 Republican members of Congress, including presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, are challenging the survey’s mandatory status, with a bill that would make it voluntary to complete the ACS. The push is fueled by privacy concerns and the very detailed nature of the questions.

“The freedom of the American people from unwanted government intrusion into their private lives and affairs is a higher priority than the quality of the government’s data,” said Paul spokeswoman Rachel Mills.

. . .

“We already suffer too much from what might be referred to as ‘policy making by anecdote,’ ” Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, told the congressional panel. “Reducing the quantity and quality of data available to policy makers, analysts and researchers threatens to exacerbate this problem.” Dr. Biggs added, “Mandatory participation in the ACS remains a reasonable policy.”

Getting Serious About H.R. 931: A Press Briefing was held on this Possible Legislation
Website link goes to the audio of the press briefing. Speakers were Terri Ann Lowenthal, Ken Hodges, and Terry Ao Minnis. The link also goes to letters opposing H.R. 931, Congressional Testimony, and other background materials.

Curtailing Census is short-sighted
Gerald Ensley | Tallahassee Democrat
March 23, 2012

Oh, they’re willing to keep requiring the government to count the number of people. But a Republican-led coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to do away with the annual American Community Survey (ACS), the chief source of national demographic data.

The legislation is sponsored by Congressman Ted Poe, R-Texas, who supports the Republican National Committee’s assertion the Census is a “dangerous invasion of privacy.” The bill seconds the notion touted by Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul that “government has no right to continuously survey the American people.”
. . .

Though the statistical sample is smaller, census officials say it is statistically reliable, especially when averaged over continuously updated three- and five-year increments. More importantly, it produces more timely data than the decennial census.

“If you look the long form nine years into the decade and allocate federal money based on that, the data is out of date,” Lowenthal said. “What (ACS) loses in statistical quality it makes up for in timeliness of information.”

Supporters say such reliable data would be lost in a voluntary survey.
. . .
Opponents characterize such questions as a “colonoscopy of the American public.” Census supporters say they’re simply a way to determine where roads, traffic lights and bike lanes are needed. A way to determine where veterans hospitals and services are needed. A way to determine which polling places need to provide a second-language ballot for voters. A way to determine where to spend money on health, social and welfare services.

They emphasize that — by law — all census data are confidential.

“It’s not about the government having information on us as individuals,” said Ken Hodges of the Nielsen Research group. “It’s about assembling the data in our communities.”

Census data’s flow could slow: Bill to guard privacy troubles policymakers
Paris Achen | The Columbian
March 23, 2012

Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to end mandatory participation in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey could compromise the reliability of statistics used by federal, state and local policymakers to plan for the future, equitably distribute services and measure progress on a variety of benchmarks, local policymakers say.

. . .

Hudson and other Clark County policymakers say that by making results unreliable, House Bill 931 by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, could render the survey useless.

. . .
During a hearing in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this month, Poe argued that the survey should be voluntary, because it’s outside the constitutionally required census and is an unnecessary invasion of privacy. An individual who refuses to participate faces a fine of up to $100, according to Section 221 of the U.S. Code.

“Government makes way too many things mandatory,” said Kelly Parker, chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. “I would argue private-sector research companies and marketing companies could do similar research in the community.”

Making the survey optional would decrease participation by at least 20 percent and could double the outcomes’ margin of error, according to an analysis by the Census Bureau.

“A voluntary American Community Survey would reduce the reliability and the chance of skewing the data, depending on who chose to respond and who didn’t,” said Ken Pearrow, Clark County GIS coordinator. “I am concerned it would make the information less useful and less reliable.”

The Responsibilities of Being American
Terri Ann Lowenthal | The Census Project Blog
March 13, 2012

Terri Ann Lowenthal reacts to the hearing on H.R. 931. She reminds readers of the legal precedents to the census, that federal laws allocate money based on data from the ACS, and that the data are used for statistical purposes not to create a private dossier of any respondent.

Here’s her limerick to start out the piece:

Three lawmakers argued unmindfully,
“We view government surveys unkindly.
Census law shouldn’t force
Us to be a data source,
And we’d rather make policy blindly!”

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