I was really disappointed to see the Washington Post article today about the Appropriations Bill in Congress which would cut the Census Bureau’s budget by 25 percent. Doing so would force the agency to cut survey’s that determine the unemployment data, overall growth in the economy (GDP), and of course the constitutionally mandated census report conducted every ten years.
The article said “While the Obama administration has proposed reducing the agency’s budget from $1.15 billion to $1.02 billion, House lawmakers are considering a bill that would give the Census Bureau $885 million in 2012 — almost $300 million less. That is much deeper than the 6 percent cut being proposed for the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau.
The Census Bureau has been criticized by some conservatives who argue its questions are intrusive. But lawmakers have said the cuts reflect economic realities, not any antagonism toward the bureau.”
I have two gripes here. The first is that these cuts do not reflect economic realities. A large amount of these surveys are conducted in person by people who the Bureau hired to knock on doors. During the recession last year thousands of people were hired to do this work which helped keep the unemployment rate below 9 percent. But more importantly, it put money in people’s pockets. If Congress doesn’t allow the agency to collect this data it will cut more money out of the economy and slow the recovery even further.
These funds are considered an actual stimulus for many people, and it’s not even extra debt the government is taking on. That’s the economic reality conservatives are refusing to believe.
What proponents of these cuts are also blind to is that this data is important. Brokers on Wall Street and businessman and women around the country look to see what the Census Bureau comes out with every month to determine their standing. It can sway them to whether to hire or lay people off. Whether it is to see what people buying, how much people are earning, or where businesses should focus their efforts to sell their products, this information has an enormous effect on the confidence of the people who, as Republicans like to say, are job creators.
There is also a more fundamental issue here. The reason why the census was written into the constitution was to see how many seats there should be in the House of Representatives. But it also tells all members of Congress who they represent and what kind of situation they are living in. It’s a starting point for serious negotiations on policy issues. Of course today these numbers are important for state legislatures so they can determine district lines.
But with the internet this data can be used for a lot of good. Not just for businesses but for non-profits who need to know where more help is needed, and who it is that needs it. Most studies are already slow and not as complete as what we get out of the Census Bureau, and more importantly we know it is an unbiased source of information which is getting harder to find. Of course without this data it becomes easier for politicians to escape the current economic reality, and allows them to blame the messenger when it does.