Discussion: Collecting Data

Household surveys — most notably the U.S. Census as well as the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey — are important sources of information in the United States. They provide policymakers with data to help them make decisions essential to nearly every government program, including those involving housing, law enforcement, and public education. At the most basic level, the U.S. Constitution requires that a count be taken of every American resident once per decade — data that is used to draw federal, state and local legislative districts as well as school district boundaries. They often go far beyond that, however.

Large and nationally-representative surveys are a relatively fast and inexpensive way to collect this sort of data. However, in recent years, decreasing response rates and data errors — for instance, some respondents give inaccurate information about their personal finances — have challenged the usefulness of some surveys and resulted in lower quality data. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Household Surveys in Crisis,” examines these problems. Bruce D. Meyer of the University of Chicago, Wallace K. C. Mok of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame worked together to better understand these problems and why they occur.

Their study’s findings include:

  • U.S. households are increasingly less likely to answer surveys. The nonresponse rate of the National Health Interview Survey, for example, rose from 8 percent in 1997 to 24 percent in 2013.
  • More people are leaving some survey questions unanswered, especially questions about income. For most of the years since 2000, more than 20 percent of the people who have taken the federal government’s Current Population Survey or the Survey of Income and Program Participation did not answer whether they receive financial assistance through assistance programs known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • Survey respondents are underreporting the amount of financial assistance they receive through government programs. “In recent years, more than half of welfare dollars and nearly half of food stamp dollars have been missed in several major surveys,” the authors state.
  • Some of the biggest reasons why people are less likely to answer surveys are disinterest, a lack of time and privacy concerns. Poor health and language problems also have prevented individuals from participating.
  • The rise in gated communities and decline in land-line phones have made door-to-door and phone surveys more difficult.


Given the issues of problematic sampling and surveying discussed in this section of the text,

  1. Analyze the potential problems that might result from this study’s findings, in terms of the results of these population surveys.
  2. Define what kinds of problems these are, given the terminology of this section.
  3. Suggest potential solutions for one or more of these challenges might be overcome.


After posting, respond to at least two other classmates. React to their analyses of the problems, or how they’ve defined the terms. Compare your potential solutions, or expand how they might be implemented using current technology.

Grading Criteria Points Possible
The problem:

  • Is one or more problems from the list analyzed in terms of potential impact?
  • Is the problem addressed in terms of personal as well as community impact?
The solution:

  • Is one or more problem defined for a potential solution?
  • Is the solution practical, reasonable, and likely to have a positive effect?
The presentation:

  • Are the problem and potential solution explained well?
  • Are the appropriate terms used?
Your responses:

  • Did you post at least two responses?
  • Did you add to the interpretation or analysis of the problems in gathering data in this situation?
  • Did you ask questions for clarification or make suggestions on how to change or improve the original application posting or any other follow-up postings?