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Census Releases Updated Demonstration Data Products

The Census Bureau has released a new set of demonstration data products that show how its new disclosure avoidance strategy (DAS) will impact the quality of its 2020 Census data products (see previous coverage). The Census Bureau is releasing a set of benchmark metrics to track the impact of the ongoing development and improvements to its privacy-protecting algorithm on data accuracy. These metrics will be updated every six weeks so data users can track the ongoing improvements Bureau staff are making to the algorithm. In addition, the Census Bureau has released a set of privacy-protected microdata files (PPMF) to allow users to assess the impact of the disclosure avoidance strategy for their own specific use cases. The Bureau notes that “while the data in the PPMFs look like individual records, all of the data are privacy-protected. The microdata records generated by the DAS ensure respondent privacy through the application of differentially private statistical noise. The microdata included in the PPMF do not include any actual census responses.”

Data users can submit feedback or questions to the Census Bureau by emailing 2020DAS@census.gov. More information about the new data products is available on the Census Bureau website.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 7), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Census Bureau to Add COVID-19 Questions to Business Surveys, Request Additional Time for Decennial

The Census Bureau has been granted emergency authorization from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to add questions related to COVID-19 to its business surveys. Questions to measure the impact of the pandemic will be added to five surveys: the Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories & Orders (M3) Survey; the Building Permits Survey; the Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey; the Monthly Retail Surveys; and the Quarterly Services Survey. The Census Bureau will be asking businesses whether they have temporarily closed any locations for at least one day, whether they experienced delays in their supply chains or product shipments, and whether those delays impacted revenue. In addition, the Building Permits Survey will ask permit offices whether they were unable to issue permits due to COVID-19-related disruptions, whether such disruptions created a permit backlog, and whether backlogs were cleared. In its justification to OMB, the Census Bureau said: “The added questions are designed to allow us to measure the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic upon businesses.  As Primary Economic Indicators, each of these surveys produce timely and closely-watched statistics about the health of the U.S. economy.  Given the importance of these indicator surveys and of the statistics they produce, it is imperative we measure to what extent businesses have been impacted in terms of their ability to maintain operations during this turbulent period.” The details of the request can be found on OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website.

In addition, the Census Bureau announced that it plans to ask Congress for extra time to produce final apportionment counts for the 2020 Census. Should Congress grant the requested 120-day extension, the Bureau will extend the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020, which will allow for apportionment counts to be produced by April 30, 2021 and redistricting data by July 31, 2021. In the meantime, the Census Bureau is undertaking preparations to reopen field offices as early as June 1.

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 14), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Census Bureau Temporarily Suspends 2020 Field Operations, In-Person Survey Interviews

The Census Bureau has announced further adjustments to its planned 2020 decennial census operations in response to the coronavirus epidemic (see previous coverage). On March 18, Census Director Steven Dillingham announced a two-week suspension of 2020 field operations. In addition, the Bureau’s two major facilities in Jeffersonville, IN, the National Processing Center and Paper Data Capture Center East, have dramatically reduced on-site staff to the minimum necessary to continue operations. These measures were further extended by an additional two weeks, through April 15, and could be extended even longer in accordance with public health guidelines. In addition, the Census Bureau has temporarily suspended in-person interviews for its ongoing surveys, including the American Community Survey. Where possible, field workers will call participants and seek to collect information by phone. This marks the first major interruption for some of these surveys in over 50 years of data collection.

At the same time, the Census Bureau is strongly encouraging all American households to respond to the 2020 Census online—both for convenience and to minimize in-person contact. The questionnaire can be filled out here—even households who have not received or lost their Census ID code can respond by clicking “if you do not have a Census ID, click here.” The Census Bureau has also published a response rate map, updated daily, that allows users to see the self-response rate in their state, city, or census tract.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

2020 Census Begins Accepting Responses as COIVD-19 Poses Potential Follow-Up Hurdles

Earlier this month, households across the country began receiving invitations in the mail to complete their 2020 Census forms ahead of Census Day on April 1. Households can respond to the Census online, by phone, or by completing and mailing a paper questionnaire which will be sent to households who do not first respond online or by phone. Particularly in light of the massive disruptions and social distancing efforts caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, it is important for as many households as possible to self-respond to the Census, to minimize the in-person contact of enumerators who will be sent to household that do not respond on their own. The Bureau has released information about how the outbreak has changed its plans for the Census, particularly its strategy to ensure that college students are counted correctly. Even if students who are home on Census Day, April 1, should be counted according to the residence criteria which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. Congress is closely monitoring the challenges the decennial faces. In an exchange during a recent Senate Appropriations hearing on the Department of Commerce budget with Sen. Brian Schatz, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that the 2020 Census does not include a citizenship question, that the data are kept private and secure, and that information may only be used for statistical purposes.

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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Census Bureau Releases Update on 2020 Census Disclosure Avoidance Strategy

On March 13, John Abowd, the Census Bureau’s Chief Scientist, and Victoria Velkoff, the Bureau’s Associate Director for Demographic Programs, published a blog post to give a status update on the Census Bureau’s strategy for avoiding disclosure of personal information as a result of data released from the 2020 Census. The Bureau had previously announced that it planned to implement the move to a standard called “differential privacy” (which uses an algorithm to injects precise amounts of random noise into data until it reaches a desired threshold of obfuscation). It released demonstration data products to give users a chance to see how 2010 Census data would have been affected under these conditions and sponsored a National Academies workshop to collect feedback (see COSSA’s article on this issue in ASA Footnotes).

In their blog post, Abowd and Velkoff note that feedback from the Academies workshop and elsewhere identified “unacceptable” errors created during the processing phase of the disclosure avoidance process: “To put it succinctly, the resounding message was that this interim version of the DAS [disclosure avoidance strategy] is generating significant error in the data that we need to resolve prior to the production of the 2020 Census Data Products.”

Abowd and Velkoff list several potential solutions that Census Bureau staff are exploring, including “changes to the geographic hierarchy used within the DAS, alternative estimation techniques to correct for the known biases of Non-Negative Least Squares optimization, and multiphase estimation of key statistics during post-processing.” They share that the Bureau is compiling “fitness-for-use” measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions developed for different use-cases and situations. COSSA will continue to share information on these measures and solutions as details are released in the coming months.

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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

2020 Census Count Begins in Rural Alaska

The U.S. Census Bureau starts counting the population of rural Alaska for the 2020 Census on January 21 in the remote Alaskan village of Toksook Bay. The decennial Census traditionally begins counting the populations in remote Alaskan villages much earlier than the official Census Day due to the hard-to-count nature of the region. The count of the rest of the U.S. population will officially start on Census Day, April 1. More information about the timeline of the 2020 Census can be found on the 2020 Census website.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 21), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Senate Passes Bipartisan Resolution Supporting 2020 Census

In December, the Senate passed a bipartisan concurrent resolution (S.Con.Res. 31) in support of the 2020 Census. The resolution, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), expresses the sense of Congress that it is the duty of the people of the United States to ensure the 2020 Census is as accurate as possible, that the government should inform the public about its importance, and that U.S. residents should plan to respond. COSSA was one of several dozen organizations to endorse the resolution, which now awaits passage by the House to ensure Congress speaks with one voice.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 7), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

President Signs One-Month Continuing Resolution, Temporarily Averting Government Shutdown

The President signed a one-month continuing resolution (CR) on November 21 to keep the government operating at fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels until December 20. FY 2020 began on October 1 and while both the House of Representatives and the Senate have made progress on passing individual bills, contentious issues like top-line funding levels and funding for a wall on the southern U.S. border have kept Congress from finalizing FY 2020 spending. A notable exception to the flat funding required by the CR is additional funding authority given to the Census Bureau as the agency prepares for the 2020 Decennial Census. The CR provides the Census Bureau with $7.3 billion for Periodic Censuses and Programs, which includes the 2020 Census and is in line with the amount proposed by the Senate. See COSSA’s analysis of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill here and analysis of all of the House and Senate appropriations bills affecting social and behavioral science here.

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Posted in Issue 23 (November 26), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Census Bureau Releases “Demonstration” Decennial Data Products, Working with National Academies to Collect Public Input

On October 29, the Census Bureau released a set of demonstration data products that show how the privacy measures planned for 2020 Census data would have applied to data from the 2010 Census. In a blog post, Census Bureau Chief Scientist John Abowd and Associate Director for Demographic Programs Victoria Velkoff assert that the “methods we used to protect the 2010 Census and earlier statistics can no longer adequately defend against today’s privacy threats.” They describe the new disclosure avoidance techniques planned to protect 2020 Census data and invite researchers and data users to experiment with the new demonstration products and determine if they meet their needs.

To assess the adequacy of the proposed data products, the Census Bureau is sponsoring a workshop on the demonstration data products on December 11-12 conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT). CNSTAT is requesting public comments from users of decennial data products—regardless of whether the demonstration products apply to their work—to inform the agenda of the workshop and to inform the Census Bureau’s final decision making about the 2020 products. CNSTAT seeks detailed input from data users on whether the demonstration products would be adequate, how critical the data products are to their research, how comparable the new products are to the 2010 products, and how to address the tension between privacy and accuracy of 2020 Census data. Full details on information requested and how to submit comments are available on the CNSTAT website. While there is no hard deadline for comments, comments received by December 4 will be the most helpful for the workshop organizers’ planning.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 12), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

November’s Headlines to Feature Deep Dive on 2020 Census

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly COSSA Headlines webchat on Thursday November 14, in which COSSA staff will recap the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month and answer participants’ questions. The November chat will feature Mary Jo Hoeksema, Director of Government Affairs for the Population Association of America and Co-Director of the Census Project, on the 2020 Census. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 12), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

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