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A couple of weeks ago, Barbara E. Keiser noted that in its budget estimates for Fiscal Year 2012, the Census Bureau is asking for $1 billion, 16 percent less than in 2011. One of the casualties:

It was felt that the popular Statistical Abstract of the United States—the “go to” reference for those who don’t know whether a statistic is available, let alone which agency/department is responsible for it—could be sacrificed. Staff will be moving to “Communications,” digitizing the data set. It is hoped that the private sector—commercial publishers---will see the benefit of publishing some version of the title in the future.

Statistical Abstract is a convenient and user-friendly resource to consult. In addition, this may be the original mashup. As an example, Table 663, Labor Union Membership by Sector, 1985-2009, indicates that while based on Current Population Survey, the source of some data in the table is a Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), the BNA publication, and research authored by two academics (their names, affiliation, and website URLs included). Published since 1878, the print and online version of this publication will cease with the 130th edition.

Actually, the budget cut would eliminate the Abstract's publisher, the Statistical Compendia Branch of the Census Bureau.

This does not make Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber happy:

Bleah. When it comes to the United States, the print and online versions of the SA are a peerless source of information for all your bullshit remediation needs. What’s the median household income? What does the distribution of family debt liability look like? How many people are in prison? How many flights were late, got diverted, or crashed in the past few years? How many women hold public office? What sort of families get food stamps? Who does and doesn’t have health insurance? What percentage of households own a cat, a dog, a bird, or a horse? (The fish lobby seem to have lost out on that one.)

In his early days as a pundit, Paul Krugman got a fair amount of mileage from columns that consisted mostly of taking some claims about the U.S. trade balance or industrial structure, looking up the relevant table in the Abstract, and calling bullshit on the claim-maker. (Of course, that was in those far-off days when all this were nowt but fields, Krugman was still a Real Economist—i.e., he had yet to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, or say rude things about Republican economic and social policy—and he patrolled the boundaries of his profession against the incursions of pop internationalists.) So, properly used, the SA might even make you famous.

Some would argue that this is just one more round in a policy that began under Ronald Reagan in which access to government data became ever more restricted—some of it not being collected at all—or commodified: collected but accessible only from private sources for payment. Or maybe it's just the Census Bureau's opening salvo, the usual approach of any organization under budgetary siege, picking one of its more popular programs as an example of what will be lost if it has to cut back.

Whatever the case, if the Statistical Abstract is something you'd like to keep around, you can sign a petition about it started by Alesia MacManus here.

• • • • •

At Daily Kos on this date in 2008:

So I'm hearing all about small towns and anger and economics over the weekend, and reading a book due out in May by Larry M. Bartels called Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (lots of great stats to wonk out on). Now whenever I find myself feeling like both parties are exactly the same and there isn't any daylight between them, there's always this to ponder:
Despite these long-term forces, distinguishing between Democratic and Republican administrations ... reveals the regularity with which Democratic presidents reduced and the Republican presidents increased the prevailing level of economic inequality, regardless of the long-term trend. Indeed, the effect of presidential partisanship on income inequality turns out to have been remarkably consistent since the end of World War II. The 80/20 income ratio increased under each of the six Republican presidents in this period--Eisenhower, Nixon, Frod, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. In contrast, four of five Democratic presidents--all except Jimmy Carter--presided over declines in income inequality. If this is a coincidence, it is a very powerful one.

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