This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Angus Deaton and the Importance of Census Data

As I noted a few day ago, this year's Nobel prize winner in economics, Angus Deaton, does work that is closely related to demography and, in particular, he has relied on census data, among other sources, for his ground-breaking research. The editorial board of the NYTimes picked up on this theme today, making the point that Congress needs to support, rather than strip, the funding for the U.S. Census Bureau and Commerce Department (of which it is a part) more generally.
Reliable data is essential for policy makers. But for years, Congress has cut, frozen or shortchanged the budgets of most of the nation’s 13 main statistical agencies.
House Republicans, for example, have been especially scornful of the decennial census, the nation’s most important statistical tool, and the related questionnaire, the American Community Survey. They have placed prohibitive constraints on the Census Bureau, including a mandate that it spend no more on the 2020 census than it spent on the 2010 census, despite inflation, population growth and technological change.
And it is almost certainly not a coincidence that this same issue came up today in the Census Project Blog by Terri Ann Lowenthal.
Daniel Webster is running to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Not the Daniel Webster who served in the House and the Senate and as Secretary of State. (He died in a tragic horse accident in 1852.) No, this would be the one from Florida who sponsored, in 2012, a successful amendment to eliminate the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). At least the Senate had the good sense not to go along with the “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to policymaking. The House Freedom Caucus, which takes credit for pushing Speaker John Boehner to resign, is backing Rep. Webster for the job. 
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the Census Bureau’s activities, also wants to wield the chamber’s gavel. Rep. Chaffetz assumed his committee’s top post earlier this year, but he’s had a keen interest in the census ever since Utah failed to gain a fourth congressional district after the 2000 population count. That unfortunate outcome, the congressman believed, was due to the Census Bureau’s failure to count Mormon missionaries working abroad when the census was taken.

Rep. Chaffetz co-authored a bill in 2009 (with fellow Utah Rep. Rob Bishop) to require the inclusion of all Americans living abroad in the census. (The Census Bureau includes overseas members of the armed forces and federal employees in the state population totals used for congressional apportionment; the count is done using agency administrative records.) The bill didn’t make it out of committee, possibly because a 2004 congressionally mandated test of an overseas count was cut short after the Government Accountability Office determined that it would be impossible to get an accurate count of private American citizens abroad and that the cost was prohibitive.
These continued attacks on census activity and the American Community Survey are very worrying, and we all need to repeatedly remind our own members of Congress that these data are extremely important to our understanding of how society is working. Sadly, many members of Congress would seemingly prefer not to know. That way they can go on believing whatever they want.



    1. Thanks for the link! And I see you're living in Fearrington--beautiful spot. We love the Fearrington House Inn.