OP-ED: A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country

  • By Robert M. Groves
OP-ED: A Future Without Key Social and Economic Statistics for the Country

Our country faces important Federal funding challenges linked to the current recession and its aftermath. On the Census Bureau’s part, we have been striving to cut administrative costs, reengineer our survey processes, and find innovative ways to squeeze every cent of taxpayer money we get.

This is an important duty, I believe, we have as public servants, and I am proud of the hard work of my Census Bureau colleagues on this score. It is also my duty to inform the country of the impact of budgets on the scope and quality of the nonpartisan statistical information the Census Bureau provides.

This blog post provides information about the implications of the recent budget passed by the House of Representatives.


The Appropriations Bill eliminates the Economic Census, which measures the health of our economy. It terminates the American Community Survey, which produces the social and demographic information that monitors the impact of economic trends on communities throughout the country. It halts crucial development of ways to save money on the next decennial census. In the last three years the Census Bureau has reacted to budget and technological challenges by mounting aggressive operational efficiency programs to make these key statistical cornerstones of the country more cost efficient. Eliminating them halts all the progress to build 21st century statistical tools through those innovations. This bill thus devastates the nation’s statistical information about the status of the economy and the larger society.

The Economic Census The 2012 Economic Census provides comprehensive information on the health of over 25 million businesses and 1,100 industries. It provides detailed industry and geographic source data for generating quarterly GDP estimates. The economic census is also the benchmark for measures of productivity, producer prices, and many of the nation’s principal economic indicators. At this moment, we are poised to request the key data from individual firms. We have already printed 7.5 million forms, and are preparing the October mailing and internet data collection infrastructure. Cancelling the 2012 Economic Census now wastes $226 million already expended on preparatory activities

The American Community Survey The ACS is our country’s only source of small area estimates on social and demographic characteristics. Manufacturers and service sector firms use ACS to identify the income, education, and occupational skills of local labor markets they serve. Retail businesses use ACS to understand the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they locate their stores. Homebuilders and realtors understand the housing characteristics and the markets in their communities. Local communities use ACS to choose locations for new schools, hospitals, and fire stations. There is no substitute from the private sector for ACS small area estimates. Even if the funding problems were solved in the proposed budget, the House bill also bans enforcement of the mandatory nature of participation in the ACS; this alone would require at least $64 million more in funding to achieve the same precision of ACS estimates.

Building a More Efficient Population Census In the last three years the Census Bureau has launched a transformation in survey and census designs. Both the ongoing economic and demographic surveys and the economic and demographic censuses will use the same technological infrastructure, to produce a leaner, more efficient 21st Century Census Bureau. The reduction in the 2020 Census request will not permit the Census Bureau to undertake the research and testing needed to build shared use of technical infrastructure and more efficient ways of conducting the next decennial census. It eliminates the anonymized public use sample file (PUMS), robbing the country of research discoveries from the 2010 Census by the private sector. The country will lose the chance to mount a 2020 Census at a lower cost per household than that of the 2010 Census.

Modern societies need current, detailed social and economic statistics; the US is losing them.

About  Robert M. Groves   President Barack Obama nominated Robert M. Groves to be Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on April 2, 2009, and the Senate confirmed him on July 13, 2009. He began his tenure as Director on July 15, 2009.   At the time of his nomination, Groves was a professor at the University of Michigan and director of its Survey Research Center, as well as research professor at the Joint Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Maryland.   He was the Census Bureau’s Associate Director for Statistical Design, Methodology and Standards from 1990 to 1992, on loan from the University of Michigan.Groves has authored or co-authored seven books and scores of scientific articles. His 1989 book, Survey Errors and Survey Costs, was named one of the 50 most influential books in survey research by the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).   His book “Nonresponse in Household Interview Surveys”, written with Mick Couper when Groves was at the Census Bureau, received the 2008 AAPOR Book Award. Survey Nonresponse, edited with Don Dillman, John Eltinge, and Rod Little, won the 2011 AAPOR Book Award.   Groves is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Statistical Association, and the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research. He is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. In 2011, he was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.   He is the recipient of the AAPOR Innovator Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award, the O’Neill Award of the New York Association for Public Opinion Research, the Helen Dinerman Award of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, and the Julius Shiskin Memorial Award of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Statistical Association, in recognition of contributions to the development of economic statistics.   Groves has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Dartmouth College and master’s degrees in statistics and sociology, as well as a doctorate degree in sociology, from the University of Michigan.   He and his wife, Cynthia, have two sons – Christopher, a recent graduate of Purdue University, and Andrew, currently a student at Northwestern University.


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