US government shelves survey that painted bleak picture of Covid-19 life | US unemployment and employment data

US government shelves survey that painted bleak picture of Covid-19 life | US unemployment and employment data

The US Census Bureau has suspended a weekly survey that painted a bleak picture of American life during the Covid-19 pandemic, with no sign of when, or if, it will resume publishing the report.

The “household pulse survey” tracked various quality-of-life measures, such as food sufficiency, internet access and mental health, and was first conducted by the Census Bureau on 23 April to “quickly and efficiently deploy data collected on how people’s lives have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”, according to the agency’s website.

While data such as weekly unemployment claims released by the Department of Labor has shown how many people have lost their jobs, the survey provided a window into the effect the economic downturn is having on the lives of Americans.

US households were asked whether they had enough food to eat and internet availability for education, if they had experienced depression or anxiety over the last seven days, and whether they felt they could afford next month’s rent or mortgage payments, among other questions.

Over the past three months, the survey painted a desolate picture of what American households are experiencing during the pandemic – a picture that showed little sign of improvement.

According to data collected between 16 and 21 July, more than 29 million Americans do not have enough food. Of the 7.2 million American households who did not have sufficient internet availability for educational purposes, 20% were black households and 30% were Hispanic. Over 44 million Americans said they have felt nervous, anxious or on edge nearly every day over the past seven days, while over 28 million experienced symptoms of depression.

The Census Bureau described the survey as “experimental”. It was administered via a 20-minute series of online questions. The agency “scientifically selected” addresses to represent the whole US population. People from those addresses received emails with a link to the survey. Administering the survey cost the agency $1.2m, according to NPR.

The survey was intended to last 90 days, with the last of the survey’s data from that period being released on 29 July. The Office of Management and Budget, the largest office in the White House, approved for the survey to be administered until the end of July. It is unclear whether the OMB will agree to let the survey continue.

“The Census Bureau is working closely with the OMB to determine the possibility for a second phase of the household pulse survey. We will announce any details as soon as they are available,” a spokesperson for the agency wrote in an email to the Guardian.

The bureau is currently hard at work trying to administer its once-in-a-decade census, trying to count everybody in the US amid the pandemic.

The bureau has also been subject to political pressure, recently announcing it will be shortening the census deadline. Though the bureau had in April asked Congress to extend its deadline, it offered no explanation for the reversal.

The move is expected to lead to an undercount of Americans, particularly communities of color and poorer Americans.

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