• Finally, some of the housing stock questions—the number of rooms and the number of bathrooms—are commonly criticized; Lowenthal said that what is missing is a rationale (with examples) for asking a series of questions rather than asking the overly blunt and likely misleading question “Is this house overcrowded?”—“because if you’re mad at your wife that day, you just might say it is.”

The third disconnect Lowenthal noted—and, she admitted, a hard one to resolve—is between Congress and the work that it does. She said that the Congress that asks “Why are we gathering these data?” and hammering the ACS as intrusive is the same Congress that periodically has to reauthorize programs in major surface transportation bills—seemingly missing the connection that the allocation of funds under those acts, and all of transportation plans that local and state governments have to submit, relies heavily on the journey-to-work data that are currently being collected systematically only by the ACS. The same phenomenon holds true in other policy domains as well—all the more reason, Lowenthal concluded, that clear examples of how ACS data (at fine levels of geography) that are essential to responding to congressional mandates are going to be “more powerful arguments for lawmakers than many other things that we can say.”

Turning to specific questions, Lowenthal asked the panel of presenters the same question that was raised in other discussion sessions—what would you do, and how would your analyses change, if the ACS were no longer available. Gobalet’s presentation had discussed the possibility of Hispanic surnames from voter registration rolls as one possible alternative data source, but—though those data were workable in the specific Monterey County example she examined—she concluded that the ACS data were more flexible and ultimately more useful. Accordingly, Gobalet answered Lowenthal that she would see no alternative but to go back to the 2000 census long-form data and to the “last,” most recent iteration of ACS data. Lowenthal probed on that point and asked how long that would last; Gobalet answered that, at some point, it would be clear that those antique data are effectively useless, but that the basic argument that she would have to make is “these data are useless but they are all we have.” Beveridge said that his sense of what would happen is that some of the commercial data vendors—“some of whom may even be in this room”—would derive products that are more model-based—necessarily involving more conjecture, being based in part on old data—and that there would be considerable uncertainty in exactly how the estimates are derived. Salvo said that his work with Lobo pushed ACS data to their limits, but that having those data gives him a distinct power: the ACS data are far from perfect, and no data are completely neutral, but the ACS data impart power by forming “a basis for discussion” and policy debate. He said that his concern is that, were the ACS to go away, that basis for discussion

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