data, or publish data, on journey work because Title X or Section X of this act says that we need these data to implement this program.” This information is all well and good, but Lowenthal argued that it is simply “too esoteric for the average citizen, and dare I say, for the average member of Congress.” She said that specific examples of ACS use like the work presented at the workshop are likely to be “much more powerful” and persuasive to decision makers. In short, she said, she would encourage the Census Bureau and ACS stakeholders “to really talk in more basic terms” and concrete examples in discussing the need for the ACS.
Continuing, Lowenthal argued that ACS users—and the specific examples of ACS uses for important purposes—need to take care in how they justify some of the ACS questions that draw the most confusion and ire:
- Lowenthal observed that the questions “that are being ridiculed the most right now are those on disability.” Read cold, absent any context, the language of the core disability question—about having “serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions” or having “difficulty dressing or bathing”—comes across as “a really bizarre personal question,” and it is unfortunately easy to lampoon the question as such.6 What has been missing from the discussion, she argued, is a clear explanation that the question is not asked to pry into any individual person’s life situation but rather to get information about various dimensions of disability—pieces that can be constructed to derive information on the disabled population generally—to make important policy decisions. Beveridge’s example of the disability question being essential to judge fairness in housing policy is one of many others that could be then used to make a solid case for the question.
- Another frequently lampooned or criticized question is the one at the heart of journey-to-work data: “What time did this person usually leave home to go to work LAST WEEK?”7 Absent context and good examples, the question is easy to criticize as trying to dupe respondents into revealing the best times to ransack their homes. Again, Lowenthal suggested, a missing step in the logic is that “they [the Census Bureau] really don’t care when you leave the house and when you get home”; they’re asking the question to get a sense of when roads in the vicinity might experience peak traffic and when transportation routes are being most (and least) utilized.
6See Person Question 18 on the 2012 questionnaire; the text excerpts from parts a and c of the question, and part b asks “Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?” Question 19 adds: “Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?”
7Person Question 33 on the 2012 ACS questionnaire.