Census Data Collection Methods Leave LGBT Economic Inequities Invisible

Our guest blogger is Jeff Krehely, Vice President for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force encourages LGBT people to identify themselves to the Census Bureau.

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage estimates for households in our country. As was the case last week when Census released the August unemployment numbers, which are also based on the CPS, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) were invisible in the data and related findings and analysis.

There is a simple reason for this omission: The CPS does not collect sexual orientation or gender identity information from survey respondents, despite asking a wide range of other demographic questions, including questions on age, gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, and Vietnam veteran status. The answers to these questions allow the CPS to report its data for several different subpopulations in the U.S., including adult men and women, teenagers, African Americans, and Latinos.

But it is impossible for the Census Bureau to report anything on LGBT people, which has real consequences for this population. As the Bureau puts it, “The [CPS] statistics are used by government policymakers as important indicators of our nation’s economy and for planning and evaluating many government programs.”

In other words, the government uses this data to direct critical government dollars to people who are most struggling in the economy. It is impossible for the government to even consider LGBT people in this analysis, so the population inevitably loses out on important government support that could make the difference between economically sinking or staying afloat.

This data is especially important to have since anecdotal research and data suggest that people who are LGBT have some of the highest rates of unemployment in our country. Other research has found that LGBT people also have some of the lowest incomes among all subpopulations in the country, which in turn drives up poverty rates for these individuals. But, again, the federal government has no way to include sexual orientation or gender identity factors into its own analysis of the nation’s economic landscape.

As a CAP column from last week explained, the federal government should add sexual orientation and gender identity questions to a number of critical surveys (beyond the CPS), including the American Community Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation,  and the National Crime Victimization Survey.  The agencies that field these surveys should follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is working to add both sexual orientation and gender identity questions to its national public health surveys.

Adding these questions should not be a partisan or political exercise. Doing so merely acknowledges the fact that LGBT people live in the United States and have unique experiences and struggles, just like many other groups of people in this country. The data would also help the federal government further fine-tune many of its major social policies and programs, which would in turn increase their efficiency and effectiveness.