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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 Releases First COVID-19 Household Data

The Census Bureau has released the first data from its new COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, which asks over 50,000 Americans about their employment status, spending patterns, food security, housing, physical and mental health, access to health care, and educational disruption during the coronavirus pandemic (see previous coverage). The data, which covers April 23-May 5, was released as tables and through an interactive dashboard. More information about the survey is available on the Census Bureau website. Data will continue to be released on a weekly basis throughout the survey’s 90-day duration. In addition, the Census Bureau has released data on the pandemic’s impact on small businesses collected by its Small Business Pulse Survey.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 26), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Census Launches COVID-19 Household Survey

The Census Bureau has applied for and received emergency authorization from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct a new household survey to collect information about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on American families. The COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey will ask individuals about their employment status, spending patterns, food security, housing, physical and mental health, access to health care, and educational disruption during the coronavirus pandemic. The survey was developed with input from agencies across the federal statistical system, including the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Data collection began on April 23 and will continue for 90 days. The Census Bureau plans to begin releasing data weekly (after an initial two-week processing period) in order to provide the most value to policymakers as they develop and implement response and recovery strategies. More information on the survey is available on the Census Bureau website.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 22), 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)

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)

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