I need to thank an amazing social worker and advocate for social justice, Sarah Bradley for inspiring me to write this article.
In a little-noticed move last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to kill the American Community Survey. This move is the latest in a series of tea-soaked efforts to deny science and block information. The annual survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, is a critical information-gathering tool. The detailed information is used to understand funding, business, and legislative needs at the state, local and federal level. The information gathered also helps identify those populations in poverty and who are marginalized. The people who rely on the information range from social workers to economists, from activists to business leaders. In fact, the move to abolish the survey was opposed by an unlikely alliance of players ranging from the NAACP to the American Chamber of Commerce.
The primary sponsor of the legislation was Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL). (You just know that the irony of someone with that name opposing the gathering of knowledge has the renowned orator and intellectual Rep. from Massachusetts spinning in his grave.) Babbling a scattershot of reasons for the move — all of which adds up to “we don’t like it” — Webster defies logic at every turn. He rails against the survey as too intrusive while using its data on his own website. He argues that it is anti-business when every major business organization in the country supports the use of the survey. And, in a remarkable display, Webster says
This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators. We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective, especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.
Really? Do you know what “scientific” means? It means RANDOM. And spending $70 per person to effectively determine where to channel BILLIONS of dollars is wasteful? And banking regulations are intrusive? It truly seems like the Devil and Daniel Webster’s Details.
So far the Senate has blocked efforts to kill the survey, but the equally info-phobic Rand Paul has promised to bring it forward again. Since it is attached to budgetary legislation, there’s an excellent chance that a compromise could significantly weaken the survey (such as making it voluntary, thus greatly reducing its usefulness). Anyone who is interested in an informed government should contact their congresspeople and insist that they not tamper with this important tool.