Census vs. American Comm. Survey 9.02.09

Written by David Green.

When the census workers come calling next year, should you hold your tongue or turn over the information requested?

Some politicians and cable news figures have advised citizens to tell nothing more than the number of people in the household and ignore any other questions.

Because answering census questions is required by law, citizens might not want to heed the advice of those saying to remain quiet.

There’s some confusion about the U.S. Census due to a change that started in 2005. The official 10-year census now uses only a short form.

However, in the last four years a longer form called the American Community Survey (ACS) has been mailed to about one in 480 addresses every month. The ACS takes the place of the long-form census that a portion of the population used to receive during the decennial census. The ACS was enacted so communities could receive data about local needs without having to wait 10 years.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, ignoring the ACS can hurt a community’s chances to receive federal and state funding. Funding is often based on population size and housing numbers. When residents fail to provide that information, up-to-date data is not available.

If residents don’t respond to the ACS within six weeks, a Census Bureau staff member attempts to contact the household by telephone. If necessary, a representative will attempt an in-person interview, driving up the cost of the census.

The U.S. Census Bureau claims the ACS is “technically, part of the decennial census...and as such, its legal authority derives from the same statutes that authorize the census.” This, says the Census Bureau, makes response mandatory.

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