The House of Representatives met last week to vote on eliminating a very important survey.
Put this one into the category of denying global warming or eliminating the federal Department of Education:
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate the American Community Survey—the 160-year-old supplement to the decennial census that determines where $400 billion in government funds go every year.
Never two to sit back and think for a minute when a right-wing wild hair emerges, Utah GOP Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop both voted for Florida freshman Daniel Webster’s amendment. The lone adult from Utah in the room, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, declined to vote to kill the survey.
Every year, the Census Bureau polls a representative sample of three million households about the languages they speak, where they work and live and how much money they make. Government agencies use the data to determine which areas of the country need food stamps and housing assistance—and, occasionally, new congressional representatives.
But Webster—and Chaffetz and Bishop—pretend to see Big Brother: “This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” Webster says. Besides, it’s too expensive, too random to be scientific. (Nevermind that statisticians say it’s the very randomness of the survey that makes it reliable.)
The American Community Survey is how we know that in Bishop’s district, 20 percent of Ogden residents live in poverty. More than two out of three—79 percent—drive to work alone, an average of 21 miles. And 57 percent live in homes they own.
In Provo, in Chaffetz’ district, one-third of residents live in poverty and only 44 percent live in owner-occupied housing. The numbers skew because of Brigham Young University’s large student population.
Without the American Community Survey, these are things we would know eventually—every 10 years when the Census comes out. But American society can turn in less than that. Ten years ago, unemployment was hovering between five and six percent. And the housing bubble had yet to burst.
The Census has become a dog whistle for conservatives. They flock to Fox News to allege rapists are knocking on our doors with surveys in hand or link it to discredited progressive community organization groups like ACORN.
Seems more likely this is just the first volley in a long campaign to discredit Census statistics and the social welfare programs linked to them—perhaps cutting back or eliminating food stamps and low-income housing vouchers altogether.
And that’s a game Chaffetz and Bishop will play every time.