Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time to save the data (again)

This time, it is time: The American Time Use Survey.

This data source, which became fully operational in 2003, is an annual survey that provides the only available information on how Americans use their time. In the view of many social scientists, it is the most important new data initiative begun by the U.S government in at least 35 years. The size of the ATUS sample was already reduced by 35 percent beginning in 2004. That was truly unfortunate, but elimination of the survey would be a far more serious loss.

The ATUS provides essential information on how Americans spend their time, including time spent caring for children, cleaning the house, working for pay, and caring for sick adults. Put simply, the ATUS is needed to expand our horizons beyond merely charting where dollars go, to charting where time goes too. Statistics on spending, jobs, incomes, and so on are undeniably important. But anyone who wants to understand the changing lives of American families, to monitor the well-being of the American population, to measure national output, productivity and other outcomes that are essential to sound economic policy-making, or to make informed social policy decisions also needs information on how our population spends its time.

Although the ATUS is a relatively new survey, it has already proven to be an invaluable component of the statistical infrastructure, giving us a unique window on ourselves and our society. Moreover, the power of the ATUS has grown as more years of data have accumulated. Every other advanced nation in the world collects time use data. If the ATUS is eliminated, American businesses, families, policymakers and researchers will lose out on critical information that can improve the quality of our lives.

Join the cause, save our data.

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