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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

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

March 6, 2012 - Posted by Corrine Yu

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

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