House Committee Passes Honest Census Communications Act (H.R. 5815)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved the Honest Census Communications Act (H.R. 5815), with a substitute amendment, on June 14, 2022 by a 22 – 16 vote.

As The Census Project covered last year, H.R. 5815 would prohibit “any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, to communicate or cause to be communicated any census-related information by any means, including by means of any covered communication, or to produce any census-related information with the intent that the census-related information be communicated”:

  • “knowing the census-related information to be materially false”; and
  • “with the intent to impede or prevent another person from participating in any census.”

It would apply to the decennial headcount, the American Community Survey (ACS), the Economic Census and other similar Census Bureau surveys.

Civil penalties for violations could not exceed “the minimum civil penalty under the False Claims 7 Act (31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq.).”

Census-related information” means any information, including: “The time, place, or manner of holding any census”; or “The qualifications for, or restrictions on, participation in any census.”

Covered communication” means any:

  • “Written communication”;
  • “electronic or digital communication, including a communication through a website, application, online forum, social media platform, streaming service, or other means of communications using the internet or a similar communications network”; or
  • “telephonic communication, including any phone call, text message, or other communication sent, received, or transmitted using a wireless or wireline phone or a cellular or other phone network.”

The substitute amendment primarily altered the enforcement of the bill, removing the original bill’s criminal penalties and adding in provisions for enforcement by state Attorneys General.

Republicans on the committee argued that the bill is superfluous because existing laws already prohibit fraud.

We’ve heard nothing about scheduling, but the bill could be brought to the House floor later this year. The Senate version, S. 3133, has only two cosponsors, and this legislation (like most) seems unlikely to pass the Senate unless bundled into another larger bill.

Census Project Launches Twitter Campaign Regarding ACS

In June, the House Appropriations Committee expects to act on all 12 of its Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bills, including the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau and all of its surveys and programs, including the American Community Survey (ACS).

To that end, The Census Project is launching an effort to raise the profile on an urgent issue that census stakeholders can amplify. This week, we began running advertisements on Twitter aimed at Congress and policymakers to draw attention to our recent report on the ACS, “America’s Data At Risk.”

Census Project members can help promote the campaign by either retweeting, through their own accounts, the ads (Ex.1, Ex. 2, Ex.3 and Ex. 4) when they appear in their feeds or using the ad copy to develop their own tweets illustrating how critical ACS data are to their own organizations’ missions.

The campaign will run through early July. Please contact Mary Jo or Howard if you have any questions or need assistance.

STANDARD DEVIATIONS: Improving the 2020 Census’ Group Quarters Count, Improving the Census Bureau’s Relationships with Local Governments

By Cara Brumfield and Allison Plyer

Standard Deviations blog posts represent the views of the author/organization, but not necessarily those of the Census Project.

Counting people in group homes, college dorms, and prisons is always a challenging task for the U.S. decennial Census, and when the COVID pandemic shut down access to those facilities in March 2020, it got even harder.

To correct any mistakes in the 2020 Census counts of people living in group quarters the Census Bureau announced the Post-Census Group Quarters Review (PCGQR). This is a unique, one-time, expanded opportunity to submit official data that would change the census base count for group quarters. In early June, the bureau sent letters to 40,000 chief elected officials of local, county, tribal and state governments inviting them to participate in PCGQR – many of these letters were then likely passed along to planning departments.

This new program is an opportunity to fix a specific issue and our advice to officials is: Take the Census Bureau up on this offer. Fixing your group quarters counts can increase your annual population estimates from now until 2030, and your population estimates will determine your portion of the $1.5 trillion that the federal government distributes to states and localities every year.

Review the Group Quarters counts in your town, county, tribal area or state. If something seems amiss, your government can participate in the PCGQR program by providing records showing the population of group quarters facilities that were miscounted or missed entirely.

For more detail on how to do this, the Census Quality Reinforcement Task Force is holding a webinar on July 6th at noon ET (register at this link).

Properly implemented, this initiative can address some undercounts in the 2020 Census. We also like it as a step toward a closer relationship between the Census Bureau and local governments because group quarters are of course not the only issue with the 2020 Census. We hear the bureau is looking to offer more technical support to local governments concerned about their 2020 count and annual estimates. This would be another very positive step – because sharing local knowledge and state datasets can yield better statistics.

The 2020 Census had other challenges:  Longstanding undercounts of people of color persisted and in some cases worsened in the 2020 Census and 14 states were under- or overcounted, according to the Post-Enumeration Survey, which does not include group quarters. (Note: no state was miscounted back in 2010). The Census Bureau can and should improve its yearly Population Estimates, to rightsize the flow of $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

We recently spent time with former Census Bureau Director James F. Holmes, a longtime census executive (and current Census Project board member). He talked about the close cooperation between local electeds, local planning agencies and the Census Bureau in the 1970s and 80s. “That wasn’t an every 10 years thing, those were ongoing relationships,” he told us. “They helped with the Population Estimates every year and all the other surveys.”

As the Census Bureau plans for a better count of our increasingly diverse, nation beset by social distrust, Director Robert Santos’ leadership and openness to partnering with local governments in PCGQR and improving the Population Estimates, is a commendable strength to build on.

– Cara Brumfield and Allison Plyer are co-chairs of the Census Quality Reinforcement Task Force. Brumfield is associate director of the Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. Plyer is chief demographer of The Data Center in New Orleans, and immediate past chair of the Census Scientific Advisory Committee.

House CJS Appropriations Moving for FY 2023

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations legislation is starting to move in the U.S. House.

The House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up their FY 2023 bill on June 22, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. ET.

The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to then mark up the bill on June 28 at 10:00 a.m. ET.

The Senate has yet to schedule any action.

STANDARD DEVIATIONS: 2020 Census State Level Accuracy

By: Dr. William P. O’Hare, President, O’Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC

Standard Deviations blog posts represent the views of the author/organization, but not necessarily those of the Census Project.

This new short paper focuses on states ranked by net coverage and omission rates in the 2020 Census and offers ideas for further analysis which would take advantage of state variation on census accuracy measures.

In the release from the Census Bureau on May 19, the Bureau noted that six states had statistically significant net undercounts and eight states had statistically significant net overcounts in the 2020 Census (U.S. Census Bureau 2022b). This is a sharp contrast to the 2010 Census when no state had a statistically significant net overcount or net undercount (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, Table 5). The fact that accuracy differences among states are more pronounced in 2020 compared to 2010 is consistent with the fact that net coverage errors for Non-Hispanic White Alone, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives living on Indian Reservations were larger in 2020 than in 2010 (U. S. Census Bureau 2022a Table 4). Net undercount rates for the Blacks+, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives living in Indian reservations increased from 2010 to 2020 and the net overcount rates of Non-Hispanic White Alone and Asians increased between 2010 and 2020. Across groups and across states, differences in Census accuracy were more pronounced in 2020 than in 2010.

Net undercounts and overcounts are important measures of census accuracy, but they are not the only measures of census accuracy that are informative. Omissions rates for states were also released on May 19. For more information on the distinction between net coverage rates and omissions rates see O’Hare (2019a and 2020b). For many stakeholders, it is the people missed in the census that is the key element of quality.  Most of the work by stakeholder groups in promoting the 2020 Census were efforts to make sure people were not missed in the Census.

Moreover, net coverage is a balance between people missed and people counted twice or counted erroneously. If there were a lot of people missed and also lot of people counted twice, the net coverage error would appear low.

Omissions are defined by the Census Bureau (2022b, page 3) as, “people who should have been correctly counted in the census but were not.” However, this definition is not as straightforward as it may seem. U.S. Census Bureau (2022c) describes two groups of people who are considered omissions.

  • People who were not included in the census count.
  • People who were included in the census count but do not meet the definition of a correct enumeration (e.g., people in “population count only” households are omissions even though they were included in the census count).”

In other words, some of the people in the omissions category were included in the Census count.  

READ BILL O’HARE’S FULL PAPER

Dr. O’Hare, a member of The Census Project Advisory Committee, is a social demographer who has spent forty years using data to increase public understanding of disadvantaged groups. For the past 25 years, he has been involved in the KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Bill has a Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University.

Comparing the Net Census Undercount of Youngest Kids 2010-2020

A new report from Count All Kids compares the estimated net undercount of the youngest children in 2020 to the undercount of the youngest children in 2010 (ages 0 to 4).

As explained by statistician Deborah Griffin, “The 2010 Census edited birth dates of children born after April 1, 2010 (children that the census should have excluded) to birth dates in early 2010. These edits inflated the 2010 Census count of children born in January, February and March of 2010. The 2020 Census edits were revised and the final 2020 Census counts do not include children born after April 1, 2020. This brief adjusted the 2010 Census results to better approximate the enumeration errors of very young children in the 2010 Census. The adjusted 2010 Census net undercount estimates show that the youngest children (age 0) were the children with the greatest enumeration shortcomings in both the 2010 and the 2020 Census.

A More Meaningful Comparison of the 2010 and 2020 Census Estimates of Net Undercoverage of Young Children.” By Deborah H. Griffin. May 5, 2022

Rep. Lawrence Focuses on Census Undercount in House Appropriations Hearing

At a May 12, 2022 hearing of the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-NY-14) asked a question of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, one that Lawrence said was “really important” to her, about the census.

“The Census Bureau recently released a self-issued report card showing that Black, Latino and American Indian communities were… undercounted. And I want to know what your plan is to look at that report and… what’s going to be the outcome of that because it has a very negative impact on poor and minority communities?”

Raimondo replied that Census Director Rob Santos “is laser focused on this…. Undercounts are a problem.”

Lawrence continued that, “our goal is for the census to be complete and accurate. And you know, every decade there’s room for improvement. The 2020 Census was really hard given the COVID unprecedented challenges. So… we’ll continue to follow up with you on this but it is our top priority.”

COVID-19 Impact on the American Community Survey (ACS)

The coronavirus pandemic made a hash of data collection for the American Community Survey (ACS), according to a new report from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). “In several months, no survey mailings went out, and the U.S. Census Bureau had to make dramatic changes to how they reached out to nonresponding households. As a result of these disruptions, 2020 saw fewer completed ACS interviews than other years.”

PRB’s analysis of counties across the country found the steepest percentage drop in final ACS interviews being completed in rural and predominantly-native counties and the biggest numeric declines in some of the nation’s largest counties.

“Given these changes, ACS data users should expect to see somewhat larger margins of error in the 2016-2020 ACS data than they have seen in prior years.”

CNSTAT Seeks Input for Workshop on the Demographic and Housing Characteristics Files

The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) seeks input on their upcoming second Workshop on 2020 Census Data Products, focused on the Demographic and Housing Characteristics (DHC) Files. It will be June 21-23, 2022, both online and in-person.

CNSTAT asked about “the need for highly detailed census tabulations at fine levels of geographic and demographic detail and the potential impacts of the new disclosure avoidance methodology on the fitness-for-use of the data. Use cases of DHC data that are of interest include but are not limited to”:

  • “Applications that make use of DHC information on housing units as well as on persons”;
  • “Interaction with federal surveys, and the administration of federal, state, local, and tribal programs”;
  • “Transportation, education, and other regional and local planning activities”;
  • “Demographic analyses such as age (single year of age, age categories (e.g., 20-24), race and ethnicity”;
  • “Small populations, including the group quarters/non-household population”; and
  • “Traditionally hard-to-reach communities, such as rural populations and households with young children.”

CNSTAT has requested “brief responses, signals of interest — indications of whether you plan to scrutinize the Demonstration products and whether you have a case study or an application of DHC-type data that you think would be good to showcase at the workshop. Self-nominations are very welcome, as are suggestions of use cases that you think need to be heard.

Anyone interested in providing input should contact Katrina Stone by May 18, 2022 with name and affiliation, a brief description of their DHC data use case, “whether you provided direct feedback to the Census Bureau, and whether you anticipate that your analysis of the Demonstration data will be complete and presentable at or before the June 21–23 workshop.”

Senator Hagerty Raises Questions About 2020 Census Methods at Appropriations Hearing

A hearing of the Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee on May 11, 2022, featuring Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, touched on census concerns, since the Census Bureau falls under the Commerce Department.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), after noting that the census is “required by the Constitution,” raised concerns about the “statistical methods and the assumptions that are used to supplement the actual data that’s collected. There are methods like Group Quarters imputation, or differential privacy that are employed. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with these methodologies. … I understand the principles of them, but it seems to me that the employees at the Department of the Census are really the only ones that fully understand and appreciate the assumptions, the models, what goes into them. And they’re the ones that are actually charged with looking at the actual numbers, making adjustments, changing the numbers and coming up with a final report. I just feel the American public, certainly the Congress would be well served to have a little more oversight and more visibility into what those methods are and how they’re being deployed. And I wanted to bring this up to you, if you could be supportive of perhaps putting in place a bipartisan panel that would overlook the way the census is conducted, the methodologies. Again, this should be a nonpartisan issue, I think, for us in a bipartisan panel. It has been done, before strikes me, this may be a way to get some more transparency and oversight in place.

Sec. Raimondo replied that she has “set the tone at the top of the Commerce Department that the Census Bureau should be fact-based, data-based, science-based, statistical-based. And Rob Santos, who you – who is the new Census Head has a strong statistical background. And I believe that – I feel confident that that is the way he is running the Department. Having said that, you know, more transparency is always better.

Hagerty appreciated her response and urged the subcommittee to hold an oversight meeting “soon” about the census.