Data collection and analysis are critical components of – and frequently the first, foundational step within – strategies to advance equity for children and families. However, recent efforts to undermine and eliminate national data tools and mechanisms will restrict the ability of policymakers and communities to fully understand differences among life experiences and impact of policy on promoting well-being and positive outcomes. These data are necessary to ensure sound decision-making and to assess the effectiveness of many policies and programs. Policymakers should not only preserve existing data strategies but should promote additional uses of data as well.
The issues that policymakers face are often complex, and the data needed to design and implement solutions must match accordingly. Nuanced data looks at multiple data points and considers the intersections between them at different points in time, providing a more accurate picture of children, families and communities to emerge. These details enable jurisdictions to identify points where policy or practice change need to occur and to track and monitor changes and progress over time. Additionally, data should be collected for the purposes of analyzing the impact of policies and programs and should not be linked to individuals.
Recent conversations highlight the importance of three important bodies of federal data: the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, American Community Survey and Supplemental Poverty Measure.
H.R.482/S.B.103 is designed to dismantle policies that actively combat racial segregation. Section 3 of the proposed legislation specifically prohibits the use of federal funds for the database and is a critical component of this of this proposed legislation. However, even if Section 3 were to be removed from the bill, the remaining language still poses a dire threat to children, families and communities – and the AFFH rule.
- H.R.482, The Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017, would nullify the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and ban federal funds “to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” These data are essential to supporting desegregation and community efforts to provide equitable opportunity and access to fair housing, a goal of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
- Repeated attempts to eliminate or make voluntary the American Community Survey (ACS) would weaken a key data source for both government and business communities. ACS data informs over $400 billion of federal government funding allocations each year for purposes as varied as education, health care, infrastructure and housing as well as drives business decisions and market research among retailers, entrepreneurs and others. Making the ACS voluntary would reduce quality and accuracy, particularly for communities of color, and would increase annual costs. With the U.S. Government Accountability Office already labeling the 2020 Decennial Census as “high-risk,” the ACS must continue to be recognized as a valuable source of information for policymakers and communities.
- Calls to eliminate funding for the annual Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) report fail to take into account the important data that the SPM provides when examining economic conditions. The SPM was originally developed to address limitations of the official poverty measure, which did not include the value of in-kind benefits or regional differences in cost of living, and to provide a deeper statistical understanding of poverty and anti-poverty programs. The SPM is a vital tool to study and record the positive impact that policies have on reducing poverty, and offers a much-needed complement to data collected through the official poverty measure.
Data plays a central role in shaping policy issues and solutions. The examples given here are only three ways that data can be used to illustrate a more detailed picture of the lives of children and families. Through efforts like these, policymakers can maximize the information available in order to promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.
We will continue to issue policy briefs, statements and blogs in response to attacks on equity, basic rights and well-being. These are continually evolving issues, and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to follow us on social media (@CtrSocialPolicy and fb.com/ctrsocialpolicy) and visit our website at www.cssp.org.
Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.