The American Community Survey: Is it real? Is your information safe?

Investigations

The American Community Survey is randomly mailed each year to one in 38 homes across the country. A few weeks before receiving the 28-page survey, the U.S. Census Bureau sends a postcard, then a letter explaining that the survey is on its way.

When it arrived at Ron Arthurs’s home, he took an immediate dislike to the questions. He became suspicious.

“They want to know how much I paid for this house. They want to know where I went to school. How many grandkids I got. They’re asking too much on the housing. They want to know how many bedrooms are in the house. How many bathrooms you have. What you pay for KUB.  Your electric bill, your taxes. They want everything,” he said.

Arthurs says there are too many questions and they’re too personal.

“I do not want to give this kind of information out. It is too much,” Arthurs said.

The U.S. Census Bureau says it understands that some people do not like the questions, but would like to have as many questions answered as possible. The survey is mailed to 3.5 million addresses across the county and the information collected goes a long way. 

“This survey is the only source of annual data on social, economic, housing, and demographic statistics for small areas and small population groups. The statistics help determine how more than $675 billion on federal funding is spent on infrastructure and services, from highways to schools to hospitals,” the U.S. Census Bureau explains in a promotional video.

Arthurs wants to know if the information he fills in is safe.

“I worry about my personal and confidential information,” he said.

A section of the survey under the heading “Privacy Concerns” says the U.S. Census Bureau is legally bound to strict confidentiality and your information cannot be shared with any federal government agency or police entity.

While Arthurs’s mind is definitely made up about the survey, the U.S. Census Bureau says all of its employees sign an oath to keep your personal information private and safe.

The government trusts enough people will fill out the American Community Survey to give statisticians enough information to benefit not only those in East Tennessee, but across the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau says if you don’t respond to the survey, you may receive a visit to your home from U.S. Census Bureau personnel because it is a mandatory survey governed by federal laws.

Those refusing to participate could be fined up to $5,000, but the bureau says to date, no one has been prosecuted for refusing to answer the survey.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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