Category Archives: census

The Old Congressional Punching Bags

Amodei 3 The 114th Congress had a fine time with amendments to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice (H.R. 2578)  A few of these are worth considering, and noting the positions taken by Nevada’s Congressional Delegation. 

Bag One: Amendment 271, from Representative David Reichert (R-WA) cuts $100 million from the Census Bureau and transfers the money to the COPS program. Reichert’s punch line is commendable: “Today there aren’t enough cops on the street. The community policing program has, in some parts of this country, been eliminated or cut back. So school resource officers are gone in some communities. Storefront officers are gone. They are gone, Mr. Chairman, and we need to bring them back. We can do it together. We can solve this problem and keep our community safe.”  [Thomas]  Where he found the money is not.  It’s taken from the programs and periodic census appropriations in the Census Bureau. [HR 2578 pdf page 7 line 8] The Wingnuts among us don’t like the Census Bureau because it collects information on Freedumb Folks

The corporate lackeys aren’t happy with the social programs and any way they can prevent reliable statistics from being compiled which indicate poverty levels, numbers of children living in poverty, numbers of elderly relying on nutrition assistance, etc. is acceptable.    The problem with whacking demographic statistics is that these are used by companies, large and small, on which to base expansion, hiring, store placement, and other business decisions.  There is some information available from private business information firms, but by cutting the capacity of small business to easily access retail level statistics from the Department of Commerce, Congress has just made it harder on the little guys.  Not that the interests of truly small family owned businesses has been an essential feature of Republican politics lately… and we won’t know exactly who favored this sleight of hand because the amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

This wasn’t the only raid on the Census Budget. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) Offered his amendment to “reduce funding for the Periodic Censuses and Programs by $17.3 million and increase funding for victims services programs for victims of trafficking by a similar amount.” [Amdt  275] This, too, passed on a voice vote.

Bag Two: Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) offered his amendment (294) “an amendment to increase funding for the FBI by $25 million and to reduce funding for administrative provisions of the Legal Services Corporation by a similar amount.” The Legal Services Corporation is another popular punching bag for conservatives.  Pittenger’s specific amendment failed, but the 20% cut in the Legal Services Corporation funding stayed in the final bill, the vote on which was 242-183.  Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy voted in favor of the cuts, Representative Titus voted no. [rc 297]

The bill passed after lawmakers turned back an amendment from Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) to cut LSC’s funding by an additional $25 million, with the money to be reallocated to the FBI budget.  The amendment failed  by a vote of 263-163.” [LSC]  Representatives Amodei and Hardy voted in favor of the Pittenger amendment; Representatives Heck and Titus voted no. [rc 275]   Even without the extra slash from the Pittenger amendment, what’s the impact of the House appropriations on the Legal Services Corporation?

“We are disappointed that in the face of enormous unmet need for essential civil legal services among low-income Americans and other issues affecting access to justice, the House has voted to cut LSC funding by 20% to levels not seen since 1999,” said LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and Frank B. Strickland, LSC Board Chair during the George W. Bush administration. “We recognize that this is a time of austerity, but the foundation of our country and the integrity of its legal system are built on the concept that everyone is entitled to fair and equal access to justice, irrespective of their economic means. Because this is a core American value, we are hopeful that significant additional funds will be provided to LSC by the Senate or in a negotiated budget agreement later in the year.”

LSC estimates the funding cuts will force local programs to lay off more than 1,000 staff members, including 430 attorneys, and close 85 legal offices nationwide.  This would result in 350,000 fewer people served and 150,000 fewer cases closed each year.”    [LSC]

Just as the Census Bureau presents an obvious punching bag for the radical right, so does the Legal Aid budget.  No matter that Nevada is already working on shoestrings … there are 23 lawyers, about 14 paralegals, and 15 other assistants in Nevada who worked on 3,984 cases in 2014.  In case the conservatives are thinking that all Legal Aid does is represent gang members in criminal courts – think again.  Nevada Legal Aid is NOT the public defenders office.

Of the 3,984 cases Nevada Legal Aid worked on in 2014, 2,669 (67%) were concerned with housing. There were 366 income disputes, and another 175 consumer law cases.  And, who were these people?

Clients by Ethnicity Nevada 2014
White 1,822 46%
African American 1,172 29%
Hispanic 641 16%
Native American 131 3%
Asian/Pacific 97 2%
Other 121 3%
Total 3,984 100%

Nothing says “protecting corporate interests” quite so well as reducing the capacity of low income citizens of Nevada to prevail in their disputes about housing, income, and consumer protection.

It might be well to recall even before the next election rolls around that three members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation (Representatives Heck, Amodei, and Hardy) believed it was perfectly defensible to punch the Census Bureau – from which most truly small businesses get their demographic data, and the Legal Services Corporation – the last resort of those who have been unlawfully evicted, swindled, or cheated – one more time.  There aren’t too many more hits these agencies can take.

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Filed under census, civil liberties, Commerce Department, Congress, conservatism, Judicial, Justice Department

>Half Cocked: Attacking the American Community Survey and the Businesses That Use It

>Have you mailed your census form back yet? The national average is now 64%, and Nevada’s participation rate is currently 61%. The deficit hawks among us should be advised that the Department of Commerce could save $1.5 billion if we could achieve a 100% national participation rate. The radical right might be convinced to not attack representatives of the Department of Commerce if they realized how the data collected from the American Community Survey gets used.

A Distinction Without A Difference

There’s a teapot-party tempest going on about CNN contributor Erick Erickson’s comment about pulling his wife’s shotgun out to greet ACS census workers. [C&L] “This is crazy. What gives the Commerce Department the right to ask me how often I flush my toilet? Or about going to work? I’m not filling out this form. I dare them to try and come throw me in jail. I dare them to. Pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door. They’re not going on my property. They can’t do that. They don’t have the legal right, and yet they’re trying.” Erickson’s allies tried to backpedal and argue that he wasn’t talking about census workers, but ACS employees. There’s no difference, or we have a distinction without a difference. In the olden days not so long ago there was a Census Bureau differentiation between the “short form” and the “long form.” The ACS is simply a new version of the old “long form.” Assuming that media outlets run on advertising dollars, and the advertising dollars come from companies and corporations, then Erickson has just pumped the lead into his own employer’s feet.

How Businesses Use The ACS Data

One of the prime ways data collected by the Department of Commerce (Census Bureau) is used is by U.S. businesses. There are, of course, academic and community planning uses for the information, but these stand alongside commercial uses for both site location and marketing decision processes in this country. The Census Bureau has a handy guidebook for businesses seeking to use the results of its American Community Survey which explains further:

Business uses of demographic and socioeconomic data fall into two major categories — market/site evaluation and consumer segmentation. These applications often require data for very small areas, and the census has been the most authoritative source of small area data available. And while many businesses now use sophisticated and proprietary site and segmentation products provided by private firms, these products are built largely on a statistical and geographic foundation provided by the census. The Decennial Census Program, now including the American Community Survey, remains a critical resource to the companies that build site and segmentation tools and to the companies that use them. [Census pdf]

The ACS asks for information similar to that on its predecessor, the “long form,” such as housing questions about the type of home, its age, length of residency, home offices and business uses, number of rooms, utilities and appliances (there are no questions about how many times a utility or appliance is used), number of vehicles used at the residence, heating energy source, expenditures for energy, value of the residence, residence insurance expenses for fire/hazard/flood, mortgage expenses. Personal information includes nationality, level of education, primary language, source of health insurance, hearing or visual impairments, physical assistance required for common tasks, marital status, number of children, veteran or active duty status, VA service connected disabilities. Other information collected includes work location, preferred method of getting to work, length of commute, layoffs and employment status. [Census pdf]

Consider, for a moment, the hypothetical case of a small business owner who wants to maximize the impact of his or her advertising. Should the firm consider producing some of its radio advertising in Spanish? If the ACS data indicate that although there are an abundance of people within the immediate area who have Hispanic surnames, few of them listing Spanish as their primary language, then producing the commercials in Spanish would not be the best use of the firm’s advertising dollar. A very different media use decision would be made if the residents in the area indicate that Spanish is their primary language.

If a significant number of people in a given area ride the bus to work every day, then it would seem that a retailer might want to purchase advertising space related to buses and public transportation. If the firm’s potential clientele do not use public transportation in any significant amount then such advertising would not be an efficient use of the firm’s resources.

If a given area sampled by the American Community Survey contains a significant number of persons who are elderly, disabled, or visually or hearing impaired, then a restaurant in that vicinity might want to consider menus appealing and appropriate for elders, or purchase plates with a colorful edge to assist those with visual degeneration. Our hypothetical restaurant might want to make its environment more appealing to elderly men whose hearing aids amplify ambient noise by reducing or eliminating background music and related noises. Better information about potential customers would make for much better service, and better service most often translates into return customers and higher revenues.

Why would anyone be interested in the cost of a household’s fire, hazard, and flood insurance? An alarm and security company would be interested. In areas with high costs for such insurance there may be a potential market for fire alarm and security systems.

Having a sense of the educational levels attained in a given area also helps a business determine the probable potential income levels. A male between the ages of 18-24 with less than a 9th grade education level has an average annual income of $27,561. The same individual with a Bachelor’s degree averages $88,641 annually. A female between the ages of 25-34 who is a high school graduate earns an average of $30,092, while one with a Bachelor’s degree can expect an average of $49,966 annually. [BLS] Not only will education level attainment and annual income inform how much money a household can spend, those factors will also inform how that income will be spent.

One study from 1989 indicates some linkages of interest to retailers. Management and technical workers with higher education levels tended to spend about 0.66% of their income on “reading,” and about 1.06% on “education,” while those in service sector employment with less education spent 0.50% on “reading,” and about 0.90% on education. This has some meaning for book stores and self-improvement course purveyors. Similarly, those with higher education levels (and income) spent more on entertainment (5.32%) compared to lower educational/income workers (4.76%). [BLS]

Thus, before anyone grabs the spouse’s Mossberg please be advised that while the right wing radio host and CNN commentator may be grabbing some ratings, he is essentially depriving his own sponsors of information they could be (and have been) using to make vital marketing and other business decisions — a good reason not to go off “half cocked.”

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Filed under census, Republicans