Civil and Human Rights Coalition Highlights Risks Posed by Census Data Collection Bill

Categories: Census, News

The Leadership Conference says proposed legislative changes to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) would severely undermine the collection of data vitally important to civil rights and human advocates, schools, businesses, lawmakers, and others who rely on the detailed information to help make critical decisions affecting millions of U.S. residents.

In a
letter urging House members to oppose H.R. 931
, Wade Henderson, president
and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Nancy
Zirkin, executive vice president, argue that making the ACS voluntary for
participants would be counterproductive. “We believe that the quality of
estimates produced from a voluntary ACS would be severely jeopardized for all
segments of the population and all types of communities, and in particular, the
hard-to-count communities—people of color, low-income families, people with
disabilities, and English-language learners.”

Since
2005, the ACS has functioned as a companion to the national census conducted every 10 years. While the census asks only a few basic questions, the ACS is
a longer-form
survey that asks a smaller sample of the population more detailed questions
about their demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics. These
detailed questions allow public
and private decision-makers and advocates to gain a more accurate
understanding of the needs and challenges facing a diverse range of
communities.

As
Henderson and Zirkin write, “Our wide-ranging efforts to promote equality of
representation and economic opportunity are guided significantly by objective,
inclusive data on America’s diverse communities and populations.” They point to
enforcement of Section
203 of the Voting Rights Act
, which relies on ACS data to determine whether a
jurisdiction must offer language assistance in elections, and note that “both the
government and business sector rely on ACS data to help ensure appropriate
employment opportunities for racial minorities, people with disabilities, and
veterans.”

Henderson
and Zirkin also warn that shifting to a voluntary ACS would increase the cost
of conducting the survey. “A decline in mail response rates would force the
bureau to use more costly modes of data collection, such as telephone and
door-to-door visits, thereby increasing the cost of the survey by thirty
percent …”

The Leadership Conference is being joined by business
groups
, state and
local governments, housing and child advocates,  professional societies,
and research organizations in opposing H.R. 931