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Census Reissues Request for Input on 2020 Data Products

The Census Bureau has reopened a request for comments published over the summer to encourage additional feedback on how data products from prior decennial censuses (including summary and detailed tables, national and state demographic profiles, and topical briefs) have been used. As part of the Bureau’s ongoing efforts to safeguard privacy, some data products released after previous decennial censuses may be eliminated. Stakeholder input is necessary to help the Bureau prioritize which data products are most important to maintain. More information, including specific questions of interest to the Bureau and a spreadsheet containing a complete list of data products and tables, is available in the original Federal Register notice published in July. Note: this request does not have any bearing on the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. Comments must be submitted by November 8, 2018.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 30), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Senate Panel Considers Dillingham Nomination for Census Director

On October 3, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a confirmation hearing to consider the Trump Administration’s nomination of Steven Dillingham for Director of the Census Bureau (see COSSA’s previous coverage). The Bureau has been without a permanent director since June 2017 and is in the middle of a significant ramp-up as it prepares to conduct the 2020 Census. Dillingham’s nomination is relatively uncontroversial, particularly when compared to the more overtly political candidates the Administration is reported to have considered. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) called Dillingham “well-qualified,” and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill indicated after the hearing that she would support his nomination.

During the hearing, Dillingham avoided taking a stance on whether the 2020 Census should include a citizenship question in response to questions from both Republicans and Democrats. He also answered questions about keeping down the costs of the decennial census and strategies for reaching hard-to-count populations. The next step for Dillingham’s nomination is a vote by the full committee, which has not yet been scheduled. Following committee approval, the nomination must be approval by the full U.S. Senate. However, further action will not occur until after the November midterm elections since the Senate is in recess until then.

A recording of the hearing is available on the committee’s website.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 16), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

COSSA and 25 Science Organizations Call for Removal of Census Citizenship Question

In a joint comment to the Department of Commerce, COSSA and 25 other science and research organizations urged the Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The letter, which was submitted in response to a federal request for input on data collection activities related to the 2020 Census, focuses on the science and research implications of the citizenship question, arguing that “the inclusion of a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census will increase the burden on respondents, add unnecessary costs to the operation, and negatively impact the accuracy and integrity of one of the most valuable data resources the government produces.” COSSA previously released a statement opposing the question after it was announced. While formal approval of 2020 Census questionnaire by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is all but certain, several law suits to remove the question are currently pending.

In response to the same request for comments, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Council on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Task Force on the 2020 Census submitted a letter concluding that “the decision to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 census is inconsistent with the ‘proper performance of the functions’ of the Census Bureau.” The CNSTAT letter is available on the National Academies’ website.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Census Bureau Seeks Input on 2020 Data Products

In order to inform its plans for 2020 Census data products, the Census Bureau is soliciting feedback on how data products from prior decennial censuses (including summary and detailed tables, national and state demographic profiles, and topical briefs) have been used. According to the Federal Register notice, privacy concerns may lead the Bureau to reduce the amount of detailed data released to the public, so input on how to prioritize products for the 2020 Census is being sought. More information, including specific questions of interest to the Bureau and a spreadsheet containing a complete list of data products and tables, is available in the Federal Register. Comments must be submitted by September 17, 2018.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Census Issues Request for Comment on Decennial Data Collection

In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Census Bureau issued a request for comments on the 2020 Census on June 8. The request provides an opportunity for feedback on the Bureau’s proposed information collection activities associated with the 2020 Census, including the addition of a citizenship question (which COSSA opposes). Comments must be submitted by August 7, 2018. More information is available in the Federal Register notice.

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Posted in Issue 12 (June 12), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Congress Questions Commerce, Census on Citizenship Question

Members of Congress questioned Commerce Department and Census Bureau leadership last week over the decision to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census. COSSA objects to this decision and has issued a statement and action alert on this issue.

On May 8, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a progress report hearing on the 2020 Census. Witnesses included Earl Comstock, Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Commerce Department (testimony); Ron Jarmin, Acting Director of the Census Bureau (testimony); David A. Powner and Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) (testimony); and Justin Levitt, Associate Dean for Research at Loyola Law School, who previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Justice Department during the Obama Administration (testimony). Invited but not present at the hearing was the current Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, John Gore, who is reported to have spearheaded the request that the citizenship question be added to the Census. Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said that he would issue a subpoena to compel Gore to appear before the Committee. A hearing featuring Gore was subsequently scheduled for Friday, May 18, 2018. Democrats on the Committee criticized the decision to add the citizenship question, questioning the necessity of the Justice Department’s request, and Ross’s conclusion that the question is “well-tested” because it has appeared on the American Community Survey. Committee Republicans generally defended the decision and were dismissive of concerns that adding the question without having tested it in a Census environment would add unnecessary risks to the accuracy and integrity of census data.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross made his first appearance before Congress since announcing his decision to add the question to the decennial during a May 10 hearing on the Commerce Department budget in front of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. Ross defended his decision in the face of sharp questioning from subcommittee Democrats, including Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-VT), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 15), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

2020 Census to Ask About Citizenship; COSSA Releases Statement and Action Alert

On March 26, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross directed the Census Bureau to include a question about respondents’ citizenship in the 2020 Decennial Census. The decision was made in response to a request by the Department of Justice to add the question in order to support its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, although it is unclear why current data is inadequate. Citizenship was last asked as part of the decennial census in 1950; since then it has been included on the census “long form,” which later became the American Community Survey (these differ from the decennial census in that they are sent to a sample of the U.S. population, not every household). In a memo outlining his decision, Ross stipulated that the question be asked last on the Census form. While the decision was reportedly made over the objections of the experts at the Census Bureau, the citizenship question was on the list of planned questions submitted to Congress on March 29.

The decision has raised concerns for those in the scientific community because the question was not part of the extensive research and testing the Census Bureau routinely conducts in the years leading up to a decennial census. The Bureau carefully evaluates all proposed changes to design and wording of the census to ensure that they do not affect the quality of the responses received. Asking about citizenship could alienate respondents in the immigrant community and potentially deter them from responding to the Census at all or answering inaccurately, resulting in an undercount of these populations and affecting the accuracy and integrity of the Census data. The Bureau is currently conducting the last major test of the 2020 Census operation, the 2018 End-to-End Test in Providence, RI, which is being administered without a citizenship question. Because the Bureau will not have been able to evaluate the impact of the question, we will not know how the question will affect responses until the 2020 Census is in the field. Given that the Census Bureau has a Constitutional obligation to count every member of the U.S. population, an increase in non-response would greatly increase the costs of the count, as more enumerators would need be sent to collect responses in person, at far greater expense than planned mail or internet outreach.

The decennial census is an irreplaceable source of data for researchers across the social sciences who use it to generate valuable findings about the U.S. population that can be used to inform evidence-based policies. In addition, information from the decennial census undergirds numerous other surveys and data sets at the Census Bureau and beyond, so a problem at the source would have far-reaching implications across the statistical system. COSSA strongly opposes the Department of Commerce’s decision and released a statement to that effect on March 27. In addition, COSSA issued an action alert to enable COSSA members to easily write to their Members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to remove the question. In addition, other COSSA members, including the American Statistical Association, Population Association of America, and the Social Science Research Council have released statements criticizing the decision.

At this stage, the only avenues to removing the question are legislation or a court ruling. Two bills (H.R. 5359 and S. 2580) have been introduced by Democrats in Congress that would bar the Census from asking about citizenship, but neither has bipartisan support, making passage unlikely. In addition, more than one law suit has been filed against the Administration, arguing that asking about citizenship is an attempt to depress the count of minority populations.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 3), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

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