How Government-Collected Data Drives Today’s Most Important Policy Debates

A new report by the American Enterprise Institute shines a light on one of our nation’s most overlooked heroes: government-collected data.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. If it weren’t for government data, says Michael Strain, AEI’s director of economic policy studies, many of today’s most important policy debates wouldn’t even have come to light. Whether it’s shedding light on malaise in the labor force, or understanding the realities of modern family life, such data are vital to comprehending the health of the nation.

That’s why, as Strain argues in the paper, the federal government must assure such data-collecting initiatives continue unabated.

“Degrading or curtailing the demographic and economic data the government now provides would be like driving on a highway with the speedometer and gas gauge obscured,” Strain writes. “It would be needlessly foolish.”

Here are five ways Strain found government-collected data have driven today’s policy debates:

  1. The decline in labor force participation, especially among prime-age men, would not have been uncovered without data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  1. The steady increase in single-parent homes, especially amongst lower rungs of socio-economic status, would not have been fully understood without data from the Census Bureau.
  1. The widening U.S. trade deficit, a key issue in the 2016 election (and one that President Trump used to ride his way into the White House), was not evident without data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, along with the Census Bureau and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  1. Loss of manufacturing jobs, while obvious to those in Rust Belt communities, is not a lived reality in many pockets of the nation. In fact, without data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the full extent of the problem would not have been realized, and the overall toll of these job-losses would not have come to light.
  1. The most lucrative college majors — from computer engineering down to nursing — would not have been collated without data from the American Community Survey. And without such an understanding of exactly what their degrees would be worth upon entrance into the job market, students today would be at a strong disadvantage. Now all students, and especially students from lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, can make smart decisions for their futures.

Head over to AEI for the full report.

Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.