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Consolidated Appropriations Act Should Do Wonders for Metro Numbers

Last week, President Obama signed the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, an amalgam of six separate appropriations bills providing $447 billion to an array of federal departments. A small fraction of this funding is devoted to supporting federal statistical agencies that generate the demographic, economic, and social data that will help metros better understand themselves.

Federal statistics are essential to public policy and private enterprise. At the same time, they are incredibly cheap and, unlike grants, can be used over and over again. Federal statistics are the best bargain that taxpayer money can buy.

Let’s look inside this high-impact, (relatively) low-cost grabbag of Fiscal Year 2010 federal statistical efforts and see what’s new and different for metro area data.

The big kahuna is of course, the 2010 Census. The Census Bureau gets nearly $7 billion to implement its once-a-decade effort to capture demographic information on the entire U.S. population. In a year’s time or so, the nation’s metros will get new population counts, by age, sex, race, and ethnicity. These data then will be used to apportion the House of Representatives, redraw legislative districts, and distribute a half trillion dollars in federal funds, among other things.

The bill also funds the Census Bureau to develop, for the first time, detailed American Community Survey data at the neighborhood level. These data, on such varied topics as income, housing costs, and journey to work, mirror those once collected by the traditional decennial “long form.” Except now communities will get an update every year from 2010 forward. The tradeoff—the data come in five-year averages, for 2005-2009 the first time out.

In addition, the Census Bureau gets first-time full funding for a small ($14 million) effort that should transform how we understand metro economies. The Local Employment Dynamics (LED) Program links administrative datasets so that analysts can see the underlying “gross flows” of metro economies, including hires, fires, and wage levels by industry and worker characteristics (age, gender, and race) and workers’ economic, geographic, and industry mobility. Imagine being able to answer the question “What happened to people who built houses in our region in 2006? Are they working now? If so, in what industries and where?” Or “What are the labor turnover patterns in our region’s key industries and how might they be improved?” The implications of a fully-implemented LED for regional economic and workforce policy are astounding.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis receives $2 million to improve its regional statistics. This restores a devastating FY2008 cut that resulted in metros not being able to see the contributions of key industries to metro GDP and work earnings. The funds also support a new county GDP series and new regional price parities that will allow real-price comparisons of metro economies.

The Economic Development Administration gets sufficient funds to create a new industry clusters research and information center, which is to provide a regularly updated detailed map of key clusters across the U.S.

Finally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) receives $48 million, a 50 percent increase. PD&R is getting funds to rebuild the American Housing Survey and “identify . . . the potential impacts various mortgage products may have on the stability of the housing market in different regions and across the entire country.”

There you have it, a smorgasbord of enormous and tiny new and improved federal statistical activities that will let metros understand themselves much better in the years ahead.

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