Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
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.