Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

IRS Cancels Then Uncancels Migration Data Program

There’s been some interesting behind the scenes developments on the data front this week. The IRS publishes annual data on migration based on tax returns. This is the best source of data available IMO because it is place to place (county to county and state to state), the data set of tax returns is so large, and income data is included. This data lets you map where people are moving from and where they are moving to at a reasonably granular level. It’s one of the data sets in my Telestrian system (which I don’t mind saying that I think is by far the best tool for using the data) and I’ve used that migration data extensively in the blog. See here for an example.

Last week the IRS quietly cancelled the migration data program. The story on this broke after a couple of conservative political publications, the National Review and the Daily Caller posted articles about it, leading to broader notice in demographic circles.

The migration data is regularly used by conservatives to create reports bashing states like New York and California. They speculate the data was being killed for political reasons.

But beyond political uses, this data is critical for metro regions to understand their talent networks. Cities like Louisville and Cleveland have based talent strategies around it. It’s also needed to understand flows of people and income within metro areas. This data is extremely valuable.

Apparently somebody else agrees as the IRS quickly backtracked on their decision. I’m not sure what the real story behind this cancellation was, but it clearly shows that key data that’s actually needed may not be around forever. You’d think we’d be getting better and better data over time, but it isn’t always the case.

Republicans in Congress want to eliminate the American Community Survey program, which is the only real authoritative source we have for key demographic information about the country. It’s inconceivable to not have something like it. Whether politics was involved in the IRS decision or not, clearly we should be on our guard against losing the data we need because some political party or another doesn’t like what it reveals.

6 Comments
Topics: Public Policy

6 Responses to “IRS Cancels Then Uncancels Migration Data Program”

  1. EJ says:

    This is actually pretty disturbing. Who wouldn’t want to have this valuable information? A shame what lengths some people and groups will go to in order to deny reality, even when its already at their doorstep, banging on the front door.

  2. Rico says:

    This is a scary thought. Data and facts are the only tools that can keep crazy people from destroying society.

  3. Chris Barnett says:

    ACS is all we have, now that the Census “long form” has been eliminated. In place-based development work, that data is essential to measure income, poverty, etc. and thus the long-term effect of policy and public investment.

    How, the educated and thoughtful person asks, do we determine if laws and policies indeed “promote the general welfare” without data?

    I guess we can just buy slices of “big data” from Google and Facebook?

  4. Jord says:

    We can pay Karl Rove and Dean Chambers to produce our data.

  5. This isn’t at all surprising as the Census and other data creation are threatened by Republicans who don’t like the “intrusiveness” The ACS is already a cutback from the Long Form SF3 data that was mentioned by Chris above and the data is insufficient. Even the census says you shouldn’t compare ACS data with SF3 data in 2000. This is a systematic push to shut down data collection overall because there are many that feel it isn’t the governments job. Of course there are people who believe that there shouldn’t even be government but we won’t go that far. Ultimately though, this is a systemic issue, not just with the IRS, but with the death of data everywhere. As data becomes more open, it gets more closed as well when sets aren’t even created.

  6. Nathanael says:

    Remember, the Republican Party is ideologically opposed to empirical policies, preferring ideology-over-reality. So they have a long record of being opposed to data-based action. And getting rid of data entirely helps them avoid having to worry their minds about the data contradicting their preconceptions.

    Meanwhile, the Democratic Party stands for absolutely nothing at all.

    Yeah. Bleck. I don’t know what to do other than try to eliminate the Republicans so that Duverger’s Law will allow for a real second party.

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