Emails, Stacy Gimbel Vidal, chief, Media Relations Branch, Public Information Office, U.S. Census Bureau, Jan. 7-8, 2014

4:52 p.m.

The American Community Survey is authorized under Title 13, U.S. Code and is an updated version of what was collected during the first U.S. Census in 1790. Census questions have been mandatory since 1790, because accuracy is important.

 

Almost everyone (about 97.4 percent) agrees to participate when they understand the importance of the American Community Survey to their local community. Fewer than 8,000 out of 3.5 million ACS recipients ultimately refuse to respond.

 

Because of the importance of the American Community Survey, it is mandatory by law. However, the Census Bureau is not in the business of prosecuting noncompliance, but facilitating participation. Research has demonstrated our surveys enjoy very high rates of participation when we explain to reluctant respondents the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits our communities. The American Community Survey has maintained a 97%-98% response rate since being fully implemented in 2005.

American Community Survey statistics are how America knows what America needs. Participating in Census Bureau surveys is safe. Your answers are protected by law and are not shared with anyone.

The American Community Survey statistics inform decisions that improve the economy and the lives of all Americans because the data help businesses such as manufacturers, retailers, developers make sound decisions about the location of new factories, stores, homes and consumer services. They help determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding are spent on infrastructure and services, from highways to schools to hospitals.

 

Thanks,

Stacy

Stacy Gimbel Vidal

Chief, Media Relations Branch

Public Information Office

U.S. Census Bureau

11:40 a.m.

Jan. 8, 2014

Regarding where the mandate to participate in the census and the ACS comes from:

Participating in the census has been required by law since the first census in 1790 through the 1790 Census Act. The American Community Survey is part of the decennial census and is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code (U.S.C.), Sections 141 and 193, and response is required by law. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amend Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than $100 to not more than $5,000.

Regarding the requirement to participate, even though a fine is rarely enforced:

Again, response is required by law. Responding to the American Community Survey is about helping national, state and local officials make informed decisions with timely and accurate data. Just as people are required to respond to jury duty, get a driver’s license in order to drive, pay their taxes and report their income, they also have the obligation to respond to decennial census surveys.

Most Americans asked to participate understand this responsibility and what’s at stake for their communities – quality, current statistics that drive decision-making on investments and services in their communities.

Retailers, homebuilders, police departments, and town and city planners are among the many private- and public-sector decision makers who count on these annual results to plan services and policies: from building roads and power plants to attracting jobs and planning emergency evacuations.

These statistics also help determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding are spent on infrastructure and services, from highways to schools to hospitals.

The survey is the only source of local statistics for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as employment, language spoken at home, education and selected housing costs. Census research and experience in other countries show that moving to a voluntary survey would make the American Community Survey more expensive, less accurate, or both. Statistics about smaller communities in much of the U.S. would be most affected if the American Community Survey were voluntary.

Here’s more information on the history of the detailed questions asked in the census and American Community Survey:

The American Community Survey is an updated version of what was collected during the first U.S. Census in 1790. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count every person. And from the first census in 1790, America’s Founders saw the need to find out more. For example, James Madison, Father of the Constitution and fourth U.S. president, argued for greater detail in the first census. He said, “In order to accommodate our laws to the real situation of our constituents, we ought to be acquainted with that situation.”

 

As a result, some of the questions now asked on the American Community Survey have been asked since the first census. The U.S. Census has included detailed information on the nation’s people since 1790, adding social, economic and housing questions between 1810 and 1850.

To simplify the 10-year census, the Census Bureau collected these “long form” statistics from only one in 20 people starting in 1940. More recently, to reduce costs and give the nation more timely information, the Census Bureau developed the American Community Survey, a smaller sample survey, conducted every year.

Stacy Gimbel Vidal

Chief, Media Relations Branch

Public Information Office

U.S. Census Bureau