Politics, Moderate



Alarms Over Cutting Back Government Data


CHICAGO -- What are the nation’s leading economists freaking out about these days?

Not so much plunging into recession (due to a possible trade war) or, alternatively, an overheated economy (due to a possibly ill-timed fiscal stimulus).

Instead, they’re worried that we won’t actually know whether either scenario materializes because some of our best economic measurement tools may soon be compromised.

Here in Chicago, the meetings of the American Economic Association, an annual confab attended by 13,300 economists, just concluded. This year, as I do every year, I interviewed about 20 leading scholars from a variety of institutions, political orientations and fields of specialty. As always, I invited these academics to discuss their research, and any issues they believe the public should be paying more attention to.

Almost to a person, they mentioned concerns about the continued integrity and availability of government data. The prospect of yet more funding cuts for the statistical agencies, layered with Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to discredit government numbers, bode ill for academics, businesses, households and policymakers alike.

Ensuring the accuracy and robustness of public data may not exactly be a kitchen-table issue for most Americans. But that’s only because they probably don’t realize how much these numbers affect their daily lives.

Consider the besieged American Community Survey, which has been around in some form since 1850.

The results from this mandatory, annual survey are used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds to state and local areas each year for schools, health care, roads, housing; to fight crime, including by mapping the likely locations of meth labs; and to inform business decisions made by home builders, retailers and entrepreneurs, among others.

Over the past several years, congressional Republicans have repeatedly attacked this important survey as unnecessary and intrusive. In 2012, they voted overwhelmingly to eliminate its funding entirely.

Among those voting to zero it out? Rep.?Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., Trump’s pick for Office of Management and Budget director, the position responsible for crafting the president’s budget.


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