Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators

On May 13, the American Statistical Association posted its biweekly update regarding the status of the 2020 Census Quality Indicators efforts. The update is posted at: https://www.amstat.org/ASA/News/Updates-on-the-2020-Census-Quality-Indicators.aspx, the content for which is pasted below. The next update will be May 27.


In October 2020, the American Statistical Association released the 2020 Census Quality Indicators, a report written by a task force of census experts with a plan to shed light on the quality, accuracy, and coverage of the 2020 Census counts. The report proposed various measures of quality, accuracy, and coverage spanning the multiple decennial census components to be applied to the 2020 data as it became available.

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Updates on the quality indicator developments will be posted to this page:

  • May 13, 2021: The researchers are working closely with the Census Bureau on the development of a series of tabulations, from which key indicators will be drawn. This involves assessing the conceptual basis of the quality indicators, checking to ensure those indicators have sound empirical support, and constructing and verifying the categories of the tables from which the indicators are derived. A recent push by the Census Bureau to provide more resources for the researchers makes them optimistic they can release a first report in June.
  • April 29, 2021
  • April 15, 2021: The researchers have been provided the first set of their requested quality-indicator data and are examining it to understand its implications. They remain in regular contact with US Census Bureau staff. With the White House news this week that President Biden intends to nominate Robert Santos to be director of the US Census Bureau, Santos resigned from the task force, effective immediately. Ken Prewitt also resigned from the task force following his appointment to be a senior adviser in the office of the census director. The task force has no other updates.
  • April 1, 2021: The researchers are in the early stages of working with the US Census Bureau statistical programmers on the 2020 Census data. They continue to be in regular contact with the bureau disclosure avoidance staff. The likely timing for the first report is still sometime in June. The ASA task force otherwise has no updates.
  • March 18, 2021
  • March 4, 2021: Since the February 18 update, the three researchers have continued their work, refining their planned analyses, applying them to the 2010 data, and reflecting on data quality measurement observations from the February JASON report. This work is being carried out with key Census Bureau staff, particularly to better identify and interpret the most important indicators.
    So the researchers can carry out their work objectively and unhindered, please do not contact them directly.
  • February 18, 2021
  • February 4, 2021

New CRS Report on the Apportionment and Redistricting Process

“Whereas apportionment is a process largely governed by federal statute,” according to a new repot from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “redistricting is a process, in practice, largely governed by state law.” Some federal-level requirements focused on “preserving equal access to representation” apply to the drawing of House districts, “but the method and timeline by which those districts are created is largely determined by state law. In states with multiple congressional districts, there are a multitude of ways in which district boundaries can be drawn, depending upon the criteria used to create the districts. There is often an expectation that congressional districts will be drawn in a way that ensures “fair” representation, but “fairness” can be a somewhat subjective determination.”

Redistricting criteria currently “reflect a combination of state and federal statutes, judicial interpretations, and practices from past redistricting cycles that may require trade-offs between one consideration and another.” While “equal population size across all congressional districts, for example, may be an agreeable goal for many individuals… the geographic and demographic distribution of residents within and across states, coupled with requirements to observe state boundaries, provide all states with at least one Representative, and maintain a constant number of House seats, make this goal more difficult to achieve.” Despite the rise of hyper-precise mapmaking software, “this technological capacity has not necessarily simplified the overall task of redistricting.”

CRS warned that litigation over congressional redistricting has become normal: “A majority of states faced legal challenges to congressional district maps drawn following the 2010 census, reflecting differing perspectives on fairness, representational access, and how competing redistricting criteria should be weighted.”

Next Census Scientific Advisory Committee Meeting is May 25, 2021

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee will next meet (virtually) on May 25, 2021 (11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern), to “address ongoing outreach efforts needed to assist with the designing of a differential privacy suite for the 2020 Census data products that will meet programmatic, legal, and statistical requirements, including work on both the primary and secondary disclosure avoidance systems.”

This committee “provides scientific and technical expertise to address Census Bureau program needs and objectives” and its members are appointed by the Census Bureau Director.

While the meeting sets aside time for public comments, any extensive questions or statements are requested to be sent to shana.j.banks@census.gov, (subject: “CSAC Differential Privacy Virtual Meeting Public Comment”).

The meeting will be held via WebEx: https://uscensus.webex.com/​uscensus/​onstage/​g.php?​MTID=​e351f8ffcb2e21b2437a649a206a6d8d3

Census Bureau Releases 2020 Census Apportionment Data

On April 26, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the first major results from the 2020 Census— state population counts used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The results included the following:

  • The resident U.S. population (as of April 1, 2020) is 331,449,281 million.
  • This number represents a 7.4% increase over the 2010 Census population total.
  • While the nation’s population has increased since the last decennial census, the growth rate was lower than the increase that the nation experienced between the 2000 and 2010 Census. In fact, the rate of growth between 2010 and 2020 is the second lowest rate of growth that the nation has experienced since the census began in 1790.
  • In terms of the number of congressional seats each state gained or lost, Texas gained the most (2 seats), while 5 states gained one seat (Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon). Seven states (California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) lost a congressional seat.

It should be noted that the U.S. resident population represents the total number of people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The apportionment count includes military and civilian personnel stationed overseas and their families.

The Census Bureau will be releasing the full redistricting data file, which provides more granular information about the population at the block level, before the end of September 2021.

What to Make of the 2020 Apportionment Counts?

We recently recommended a new online tool from the Census Bureau to help stakeholders work with 2020 Census apportionment data once it is released this month.

The “Historical Apportionment Data Map” displays apportionment results for each census. While it currently just includes 1910 to 2010, the Bureau has said that the 2020 apportionment data will be added to the map as soon as they become public.

It is important to be reminded that the state apportionment counts differ significantly from the final 2020 state population totals that will come later, as well as the annual Population Estimates for each state. The apportionment calculation is based upon the total resident population (citizens and noncitizens) of the 50 states. In 2020 the apportionment population also includes U.S. Armed Forces personnel and federal civilian employees stationed outside the United States and their dependents living with them that can be allocated back to a home state. The population of the District of Columbia is not included. More can be found here.

The most recent population estimates are a rough tool used by experts to project the apportionment such as here and also here. While generally close to the official apportionment release, readers are cautioned that small differences can affect which state gets the 435th seat in the House of Representatives.

Quality of the Counts

For the first time ever, the Census Bureau will also release some process indicators that will be our first hint of how well the 2020 count went. These indicators will not tell us about important metrics on the overall quality or completeness of the count, (such as the net undercount or the differential undercount across race subgroups), but they will begin to tell the story of how well the Bureau adapted to disruptions in operations cause by the Covid-19 pandemic. Look for the Bureau to report on state level indicators such as:

  • The percent addresses determined to be occupied, vacant, or non-existent.
  • How Census determined household status. That is through self-response, in person interview, Group Quarters or unresolved.
  • For other than self-response, the  percentage of occupied addresses resolved by interview, proxy, or administrative records.
  • The percent of deleted addresses later resolved with a proxy interview or by administrative records.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 1 p.m. EDT, the Census Bureau will host an Educational Webinar on these metrics.  Where possible the Bureau will compare to 2010 metrics of the same kind. Beginning in May, the Bureau will begin progressively releasing other quality metrics, including an independent analysis by a outside team led by experts from the American Statistical Association.

Get Ready for Apportionment Data Release with New Census Bureau Tool

A new online tool from the Census Bureau will help stakeholders work with 2020 Census apportionment data once it is released this month.

The “Historical Apportionment Data Map” displays apportionment results for each census. While it currently just includes 1910 to 2010, the Bureau has said that the new apportionment data will be added to the map as soon as they become public.

The interactive map includes: Number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; Changes to each state’s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; Population per representative for each state; Resident population of each state; Percentage change in resident population for each state; and Population density of each state. It will also have downloadable tables with source data and technical documentation, and be optimized for mobile devices.

Interested stakeholders would do well to familiarize themselves with its functionality in advance of the apportionment data release.

Census Bureau Lead Researcher Tells Court Importance of Protecting Data

In a filing with a U.S. District Court in Alabama that was made public this week, the Census Bureau’s Chief Scientist, John Abowd swore a declaration that amounts to a comprehensive history of the Census Bureau’s legal, statistical, and moral responsibility to keep respondent information confidential.

Abowd made the core point that every survey the government conducts relies on trust that the personal information respondents volunteer will remain confidential. “Though participation in the census is mandatory under 13 U.S. Code § 221, in practice, the Census Bureau must rely on the voluntary participation of each household in order to conduct a complete enumeration,” the chief scientist wrote. This ethic at the Bureau dates as far back as when Congress first established confidentiality protections for individual census responses in the Census Act of 1879.

The declaration amounts to an expansive history lesson on how privacy protections have evolved over the decades at the Census Bureau. It describes why privacy is vital to government surveys and censuses that support a wide array of critical government and societal functions at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels.

The declaration is part of the government’s response to a lawsuit by the State of Alabama and others seeking to block implementation of new disclosure avoidance methods that some believe will make data less accurate, especially for the upcoming process of redrawing federal, state and local political jurisdictions. Abowd describes for the court the public process Census has engaged with stakeholders over many years to balance the need for privacy against the need for accuracy.

Abowd argues that while the Census Bureau’s confidentiality methodologies for the 2000 and 2010 censuses were considered sufficient at the time, “… advances in technology in the years since have reduced the confidentiality protection provided by data swapping.” He describes in detail a simulated “attack” Census itself conducted that showed using just 6 billion of the over 150 billion statistics re-leased in 2010 would allow an attacker to accurately re-identify at least 52 million respondents and with some third party data could re-identify around 179 million Americans or around 58% of the population.

The Census Bureau is continuing with stakeholder engagement on their latest privacy protection effort, often described as “Differential Privacy.” In the coming weeks they will be releasing a new demonstration file for stakeholders to assess and comment upon.

President Biden Nominates Dr. Robert Santos to be Next Census Bureau Director

On April 13, President Biden announced his intention to nominate Dr. Robert Santos to serve as the next Census Bureau Director. Currently, Dr. Santos is Vice President & Chief Methodologist at the Urban Institute, Washington, D.C. He is an expert in survey sampling, survey design and more generally in social science/policy research, with over 40 years of experience. Dr. Santos is also the current President of the American Statistical Association. He has served on numerous advisory committees, including the Census Advisory Committee for Professional Organizations (2001-2006), and the CDC National Center for Health Statistics’ Board of Scientific Counselors (2017-2020). The Census Bureau Director’s position requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. If confirmed, Dr. Santos would be the first person of color to permanently head the agency.

The White House announcement is posted at: President Biden Announces His Intent to Nominate Robert Santos for Director of the U.S. Census Bureau | The White House.

Using 2020 Self-Response Rates to Measure Census Quality

A new working paper from the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality found that “the 2020 Census likely will contain similar inaccuracies seen in past censuses.”

Authors Bill O’Hare and Jae June Lee analyzed “self-response rates as an early indicator,” albeit an imperfect one, “of differential census data quality (i.e. the gaps in census coverage between groups and geographic areas).” These kind of “census process indicators… can provide early evidence about the likely differential quality of the census.” The paper examined “whether historically undercounted groups have relatively low self-response rates to the 2020 Census” to try to “uncover early evidence about whether historical patterns of unequal coverage in the census were likely repeated in the 2020 Census.”

Senate Holds Hearing on 2020 Census

On March 23, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) Committee held a hearing, “The 2020 Census and Current Activities of the U.S. Census Bureau.” Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin and officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Christopher Mihm, Managing Director, Strategic Issues, and Nick Marinos, Director, Information Technology & Cybersecurity, testified.

The purpose of the hearing was to review the conduct and outcome, to date, of the 2020 Census. The hearing began on a positive note with HSGAC Chairman Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) stating, “There is no question that as the Census Bureau continues to process the data they have collected, and conduct robust data quality checks, their hardworking and dedicated employees not only deserve our gratitude, but the resources and time required to get it right.”

Acting Director Jarmin received numerous questions about the status of the Bureau’s current plans for releasing redistricting data. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and James Lankford (R-OK) expressed concerns about the implications of the delayed redistricting data release for their states. Acting Director Jarmin assured senators, “We’re trying to get the data to the states as quickly as we can.”

GAO officials noted that the Bureau has made significant progress, but still faces two challenges in completing the count—assessing concerns about data quality and finalizing plans to protect the data.

A video recording of the hearing and all written testimony are posted at: Hearings | Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (senate.gov).

Several media outlets covered the hearing as well.

Roll Call magazine
Census Bureau defends delays in data delivery before Senate panel

Associated Press
Lawmakers frustrated over delay in Census redistricting data

Census Bureau tells Senate hearing it’s unlikely to provide redistricting information by Ohio’s deadline – cleveland.com

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