Commutes get shorter, by one minute

Census Bureau releases new survey with unusual facts, which it sees as rationale for more-frequent census-taking.

If you're stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway en route to work, here's some good news: According to a new Census Bureau survey, your commute is one minute shorter than it was in 2000.

And if you are an indigent person in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut who is no longer receiving welfare payments, here's some cold comfort: The number of people on welfare is down.

But homeowners can be happy: Median home values went up significantly between 2000 and 2001.

These are some of the gleanings from the American Community Survey (ACS), a new US Census Bureau study released this week. It's something the Census Bureau sees as a sort of prototype that will be executed every year instead of every 10 years - when one out of every six Americans is supposed to fill out a more detailed "long form."

Census officials argue that gathering this in-depth information on only a 10-year basis does not take into account demographic changes in rapidly growing areas. They say improved data would help marketers, regional planners, and local officials. And since the last long-form survey took place when the economy was at its peak, more recent surveys might give a better a idea of how many Americans are now in need of help.

"We need a more frequent and a better census. It just has to be funded by Congress," says Louis Kincannon, director of the Census.

But so far, Congress has not acted on Mr. Kincannon's request for $87 million for fiscal year 2003, up from $55 million last year. This has halted the launch of the ACS on a nationwide basis. Instead, the Census Bureau has been collecting data from test sites, such as those in the tri-state survey released Monday.

Getting the money is not going to be easy. The Bush administration has not included funding for it, and support in Congress is tepid. "As it stands now, it is highly doubtful that the ACS will get fully funded," says Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York. "This has a real impact on the bureau's plan to do away with the long form in the 2010 census, and they are going to have to start planning for an old-style census with both long and short forms."

If the survey is not funded, some conservative and libertarian groups will be happy. "It's a rolling invasion of privacy," says Edward Hudgins, Washington director of the Objectivist Center, a probusiness think tank. "They should be cutting back on the long form to begin with."

While the bureau argues its case for funding, it is also encouraging businesses to fill out an Economic Survey form that was mailed out in December. Every five years, this survey is mailed to 5 million companies - which produce the bulk of the goods and services in the gross domestic product.

Feb. 12 is the deadline for companies to return the forms, which ask for information such as how many widgets were shipped by a company. Over the next two years, the Census Bureau will analyze the forms and then use the information to refine the nation's economic statistics.

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