Blog Archives

COSSA Endorses Bipartisan Bill to Extend Census Deadline

COSSA joined over 200 organizations in endorsing a new bipartisan bill that would extend the statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census and require the Census Bureau to continue its enumeration operation through October 31. As previously reported, the Department of Commerce announced plans to end counting activities for the 2020 Census a month ahead of its originally planned schedule, leading to concern that the resulting data will be inaccurate. The 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act, introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) would require the 2020 Census to stick to its originally planned schedule and gives the Bureau additional time to deliver apportionment and redistricting data. Follow COSSA’s coverage of the 2020 Census here.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 15), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Stakeholders Rally to Salvage 2020 Census

With less than a month remaining before the Census Bureau plans to end all of its counting efforts for the 2020 Census, advocates are actively working to force the Bureau to take more time to ensure an accurate count. As previously reported, the Census Bureau announced in August that it would shorten its counting efforts by a full month, moving up its deadline from October 31 to September 30. According to the Bureau, the shortened timeframe is needed to in order to produce statutorily mandated apportionment counts by the end of the year. The House’s most recent coronavirus relief bill would extend that deadline, but the Senate has yet to act to do so. COSSA joined over 900 Census Project organizations in a letter to Senate leaders urging them to extend the statutory deadlines for reporting apportionment data in its next COVID relief package. In addition, Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) led a bipartisan group of 48 senators calling on Congressional leaders to extend the deadline.

The Census Project has released a toolkit for individuals who want to take action in support of a fair and accurate 2020 Census. They encourage advocates to post to social media using the hashtags #SavetheCensus and #DontRushtheCensus. In addition, stakeholders can write to their members of Congress in support of the Census here.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 1), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Congress Struggling to Reach Agreement on COVID-19 Relief, Potentially Delaying August Recess

Congressional leaders continue to negotiate with the White House on what many suspect could be the final COVID-19 relief bill, and the House, Senate and Trump Administration remain far apart on their preferred approaches. While the House passed a relief bill—the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act—in May, the Senate has only recently introduced its counterpart proposal, the Healthcare, Economic Assistance, Liability, And Schools (HEALS) Act. Though the Senate is scheduled to begin its August recess on Friday August 7, policymakers are reportedly pessimistic about reaching a deal before then. Senate leaders are expected to delay the start of the recess in hopes of reaching a deal the following week. While members of the House have already returned home, Representatives could be called back with 24 hours’ notice to vote on a final package.

The Senate’s coronavirus stimulus package, the HEALS Act, includes supplemental appropriations for federal science agencies, notably $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3.4 billion for the CDC. The House’s HEREOS Act proposed additional funding for NIH ($4.75 billion), CDC ($2.1 billion), and the National Science Foundation ($125 million), among other agencies. Neither bill includes the Research Investments to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, a bipartisan bill that seeks $26 billion in relief funding to federal science agencies to support non-COVID university-based research that has been impacted by the pandemic.

The Senate HEALS Act does not include language sought by Census stakeholders, and requested by the Administration, to extend the 2020 Census statutorily required deadlines (see related article). The Census Project, of which COSSA is a member, has worked with various partners to craft a sign-on letter urging the Senate to include language that would extend the deadlines by four months. Interested organizations (not individuals) can sign the letter by August 5.

Finally, the Senate COVID package incorporates the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, a bill seeking to address research security concerns, but itself raising concerns within the scientific community about the approach taken (see related article).

Leadership in the House and Senate will continue to work on a COVID-19 compromise over the coming weeks. COVID relief aside, when Congress returns after Labor Day, lawmakers will have fewer than 20 working days to take action on fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, after which lawmakers will head home again in advance of the November elections.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Census Announces Early End to 2020 Operations, Jeopardizing Accuracy of the Count

Census Bureau Director Stephen Dillingham announced that the Census Bureau will cut short its counting operations for the 2020 Census by a full month in order to produce apportionment counts by its legally mandated deadline of December 31, 2020. According to the announcement, the Census Bureau will end field data and self-response collection on September 30, rather than October 31 as previously planned. This change comes months after the Census Bureau itself asked Congress to delay the deadline for producing apportionment counts in order to allow more time to recover from the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the House’s most recent COVID-19 relief package would delay this deadline to give the Bureau more time, the Senate’s does not (see related article).

Although the change appears to be prompted by Congress’s failure to adjust the apportionment deadline, many Census stakeholders see it as part of a broader attempt by the Trump Administration to sabotage efforts to produce a full and accurate count, particularly of minority communities. They point to the protracted battle over the failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire as well as President Trump’s recent (likely unconstitutional) order to exclude unauthorized immigrants from apportionment counts. As minority and immigrant communities are among the hardest-to-count populations, a truncated enumeration period would likely result in an undercount of these groups.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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)

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