Last week I commented in this space about the Tea Party’s desire to make a symbolic cut in government by eliminating the American Community Survey and the Economic Census at the US Census. This would change economic statistics in the US, upending a system that has been in place since the end of World War II. And it really makes no sense for pro-business Republicans to be leading the charge, since business is one of the primary beneficiary of all this data about the US population and business.
Over the weekend, the economic correspondent for the New York Times wrote an opinion piece. She pointed out how many businesses had come out against this change, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Home Builders.
The article did give a hint about what might actually be going on. To quote the article:
“Republicans may hope that when the Senate and House bills go to a conference committee, a final compromise will keep the survey, but make participation in it voluntary. Under current law, participation is mandatory.”
That observation is rather amazing, since there is no mystery to the answer. That question has been studied. Let me quote from the summary of a report on the consequences from imposing voluntary participation:
* “A dramatic decrease occurred in mail response when the survey was voluntary. The mail cooperation rate fell by over 20 percentage points and the final response rate after all three modes of data collection was about four percentage points lower…
* The estimated annual cost of implementing the ACS would increase by at least 38 percent if the survey was voluntary and the survey maintained the current reliability levels.
* The use of voluntary collection methods had a negative impact on traditionally low response areas that will compromise our ability to produce reliable data for these areas and for small population groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Lower reliability and higher cost seem like a dumb thing to aspire to produce. Like I said last week, this proposal is just stupid.