By Frances Deviney, Ph.D., Texas KIDS COUNT Director
Football is a longstanding tradition in Texas, with high expectations for rigor, skill, and success. But what if I told you that one day, all of the playbooks and player stats would just disappear? Coaches would no longer have information on how the opposing team is performing. Or, worse yet, how their own team was performing, or what types of players they might need to add to develop a winning game plan. And if you don’t have good statistics, you can’t know if what you are doing is making conditions better or worse. That, my friends, is exactly what will happen for businesses, governments, and nonprofits if Congress stops funding the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Congress relies heavily on the American Community Survey to identify national needs and balance priorities across the states and local communities. The American Community Survey also helps determine how approximately $400 billion in state and federal funds, including approximately $30 billion for Texas, are distributed each year. The survey is used to make geographic distribution decisions on many programs, including rural electrification loans, supportive housing for the elderly, small business development, highway planning and construction, grants to local education agencies, prevention and treatment of substance abuse grants, Section 8 housing choice vouchers, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, crime victim assistance, Unemployment Insurance, child welfare state grants, and, last but certainly not least, Homeland Security grants.
Texans rely on the annual American Community Survey’s invaluable data because it is reliable, credible, and the only consistent source for local-level data to guide action today and plan for tomorrow. The survey replaced the old long-form decennial census survey and reaches approximately 3 million households each year, asking about income, family relationships, transportation, and housing. Although it may not be obvious why some questions are asked, the data are used daily by businesses and governments to make their best game plans.
The American Community Survey helps us understand our local communities. Without it, we would not know that Texas has four of the five worst poverty rates, and 12 of the 20 worst uninsured rates, among U.S. metropolitan areas. In a time of limited resources and great need, these data become even more essential. They inform wide-ranging decisions, from new road projects based on population growth to plans for water usage in a community to businesses determining where to build a new store.
In fact, the Target corporation just released a video explaining how it uses the survey’s local-level data to determine where to build stores and what customers in each area might need (e.g., compact furniture in areas with many apartments or a larger children’s clothing section in areas with many families). With 148 Target stores hiring employees and providing services in communities across Texas, this is no small matter for our state.
At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we use the American Community Survey on a daily basis. We used data from the survey during the 2011 Texas Legislative Session to demonstrate the local impact of changes to federal and state budgets. In addition, because the survey is the most accessible source of employment information by gender, we use it to demonstrate the impact of the economic downturn and decrease in public-sector jobs on women. We also help grant writers use the data to accurately describe the need so that they can bring millions of philanthropic dollars to their communities.
It is inspiring to see that Senator Hutchison and Senator Cornyn believe in the value of the American Community Survey data so much that they link to the data from their official U.S. Senate websites as a way to inform their constituents. We hope Texans from across the state will ask Senators Hutchison and Cornyn to continue showing their support by voting to fully fund the American Community Survey and keep our playbook intact.