Why Data Matters

Photo by U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office

To paraphrase an oft quoted saying, “you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”  To our mind, one of the most reliable ways of knowing where we’ve been is tracking changes in data over time.  The American Community Survey (ACS), provided by the Census Bureau, has long been a reliable source of information on a variety of data.  The ACS provides an annual look at things like income and family composition at the state and local level.  Congress is currently considering eliminating this survey.

In the context of larger fiscal issues, it might seem as though cutting out data is reasonable, but the ACS is truly a wealth of information about our communities and there would be a significant void in its absence.  Without having reliable data on health insurance status, household income and other issues, policymakers will be left without an objective source of information about their communities.  Without ACS data, retailers wouldn’t know where to build their stores or what products to stock in them.  Schools would have a harder time predicting their future enrollment patterns or knowing where to build in a growing community.

At Voices for Children in Nebraska, we rely on the data contained in the survey to help us assess how children in the state are doing and how things have changed over time.  Because the data is national, it is also a useful source of comparison for looking at how Nebraska is faring relative to other states.

Our annual Kids Count in Nebraska report is just one of the places where you are likely to find data from the American Community Survey.  This report is used by policymakers, grant writers, community organizations and funders to assess what issues need more attention as well as where improvements have been made. Time and again, we hear our legislators ask for data to inform their decision-making. The ACS is often a prime source of the data they seek.

The loss or erosion of the ACS as a data source would truly be a step backwards.  Reliable, accurate, comparable data is not easy to come by.  Further, the sudden loss of ACS data would mean the loss of ability to track trends over time.

As an organization, we can’t afford to lose our ability to assess child well-being based on indicators contained in the ACS, but more importantly, we don’t want to lose our ability as a state and as a nation to make decisions based on accurate data.

Although data alone isn’t enough to shape decisions, having to rely only on organizations that have varying agendas or media reports to track information currently contained in the ACS would be unfortunate.   Because the ACS exists, we have a reliable source of information about our states and communities.  We hope that Congress will consider the value of having reliable information about our nation when making decisions about the future of the ACS.

About Aubrey Mancuso

As Policy Coordinator, Aubrey oversees Voices for Children's economic stability and health policy.

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