Federal Government Takes Steps to Gather New Official Data on COVID Effects

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Census

Federal Government Takes Steps to Gather New Official Data on COVID Effects

The Census Bureau is now collecting new data to measure how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting U.S. households. Two new surveys, one aimed at households and the other at business, will begin to measure how the pandemic is affecting individuals and businesses during the pandemic. 

The Household Pulse Survey will be sent to approximately 14 million people via email compiled from commercial sources. The questionnaire is a collaboration of multiple federal statistical agencies. The survey covers a range of questions that may directly inform future policy debates, such as food security, housing security, and economic anxiety.  The Small Business Pulse Survey will sample approximately one million small businesses across the country to provide additional insights from establishments about economic effects. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also expanding its data collections, with support from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau,  by adding five COVID-related questions to the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) through October 2020. These data will be tied to the key measures produced by the CPS, including the national unemployment and the labor force participation rate.

The efforts underway in the federal statistical system are encouraging steps forward for producing the valid, reliable data needed to address many current challenges. Prioritizing high-quality data and a robust data infrastructure will bolster decision-makers’ capabilities to understand and address the current pandemic with sound policies. 

The Data Coalition first encouraged Congress to support and fund the development of a large-scale, household survey on COVID-19 impacts in March. Rapidly launching new data collection endeavors is a colossal undertaking, particularly in the midst of an active emergency response. In fact, in order to get both the household and establishment surveys into the field as quickly as possible, the Census Bureau will be relying on email outreach, with email addresses purchased from commercial sources. This is a new outreach strategy for the Census Bureau, but shows how the agency is innovating and adapting while balancing the need for rigorous and careful statistical techniques. The results will be published under the Census Bureau’s experimental statistics program. 

While government survey efforts are essential, philanthropic approaches like the COVID Impact Survey are also vital. The COVID Impact Survey, aims to answer important questions with timely national and regional statistics on physical health, mental health, economic security, and social dynamics in the United States. The large-scale effort using random sample survey techniques will complement and even supplement government data collections at a time when it’s critical for policymakers to have good information for determining future actions for stay-at-home orders, social distancing policies, and other actions to combat the effects of the virus. 

Multiple projects like the COVID Impact Survey and the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey will work together to meet information needs, but responsible data collection will require significant and meaningful investment. The Data Coalition will continue to advocate for efforts to promote valid and reliable data about the challenges facing the country.