Friday, September 23, 2005

Swept Along by Hurricanes

If we were ever in doubt about getting the budget for our survey for next year passed, we can worry no longer, thanks to our benefactors Katrina and Rita. The American Community Survey (ACS) has become a hot-ticket item in Congress as our country’s leaders scratch their heads and ask all sorts of questions about the demography and the economics of the areas affected by these catastrophic storms.

FEMA has classified the counties of the Gulf Coast region as red, yellow, or green, depending on their recovery from Katrina. I assume a similar categorization will be applied to the areas where Rita takes her toll. So far we have avoided the red counties and tread lightly in the yellow counties, attempting to stay clear of those trying to put the pieces back together, to restore some sort of normality to what’s left. But it has become evident that if we are indeed to keep up with the people and their housing situation in the Gulf Coast areas, we will have to resume mailing, calling, and visiting them to conduct our half-hour survey. The ACS offers the country an opportunity to get a snapshot of how things are now, as opposed to using data from the last Census.

We had an interesting meeting this week to discuss just what we could do in response to this cry for data. We realized that we don’t even have a category to describe so many of the houses in the area which are not demolished, but are definitely uninhabitable. We talked about the need not only to know what’s happening along the Gulf Coast, but also what’s happening to all the people who left that area to live temporarily or permanently elsewhere. I suggested that perhaps the section about migration needs another question to ask the specific reason for a move.

I questioned how I would feel about someone asking for 30 minutes of my time if I had recently gone through so much trauma, especially in light of the unacceptable response to date by the Federal government. I might just say, “Leave me alone. It’s too late.” On the other hand, I might be persuaded that this could be a way to register the truth about my situation.

So as Rita prepares to come on land somewhere on the Gulf Coast, the ACS is gearing up for its first big challenge since it went national this year. I hope that those above me don’t make ridiculous promises that we can’t fulfill. This is our chance to get on the map and to secure our financial future, but we must come through! I look at this as my personal chance to make a difference for the victims of these natural disasters.

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