U.S. Chamber Goes to Bat for Census Funds in FY 2022

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently went to bat for funding for the Census Bureau. As part of a letter in support of various provisions in the CJS Appropriations legislation, arguing in support of the Biden Administration’s request:

This legislation includes $1.49 billion for the Census Bureau to ensure that 2020 decennial census products are made available and American Community Survey (ACS) programs can move forward. The 2020 decennial census was successful because of the uninterrupted funding and commitment from government leaders in the face of the pandemic. Unreliable census data would have harmful effects on businesses and the American economy. Businesses planning on growing and expanding into new markets would be faced with making decisions on where to invest based on poor data.

On July 15, 2021, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation funding the Census Bureau.

Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators – July 22

On July 22, 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 August 5.

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July 22, 2021: The task force expects to release the state-level report in the next two to three weeks. It will provide advance notice of the release on the Census Quality Indicators updates page and to those signed up to receive updates. While the Census Bureau has provided all the requested data, the review of the data and writing of the report are still underway.

The Impact of the 2020 Census

State of Play, a program on Black News Channel, spoke with the Census Project to learn more about the importance of the census.

Sharon Pratt noted that, “the business community is involved because there are data points… that have an impact on business decisions,” and asked for some examples that might matter to consumers.

Census Project Co-Director Howard Fienberg explained that, for the average consumer, census data “will determine where a business is going to set up its next business, or if they’re going to keep a business in a specific area,” whether in an urban core of a city or “some small town in a remote area of the country.” The information helps a business “determine if there is a need for a new OB/GYN in this area; what’s the baby boom looking like and current trends in marriage. It is determining whether or not you’re going to get a new Walmart in some rural area that’s been dying for a good opportunity. For urban areas, it is going to be the siting of a shopping center; is there a particular need for certain kinds of stores and is there a workforce that’s willing to work there and that brings the skillset to make it work, in addition to demand from consumers?”

Census data, from the perspective of a business and consumer, “comes down to identifying the unmet needs both within the workforce and the unmet needs and wants of consumers,” Fienberg commented.

Karen A. Tramantano asked, “if we didn’t get [the 2020 Census] right, and right now we’re functioning on 2010 data, are we stuck for the next 10 years?”

Fienberg responded that there is “a lot of work being done right now, both within the Census Bureau and among a variety of outside statistical expert organizations to try to evaluate the quality of that data, so we don’t really know where we are in terms of how good or how bad it might be.”

However, he warned that “any small discrepancies in accuracy can have a large impact over the course of the whole decade. To an individual household, that could be the difference in the place that you live getting the correct amount of funding for the VA, transportation, all manner of social welfare programs, education funding, healthcare funding… everything comes back to census data, so it does have an impact across the decade on the lives of ordinary people.”

FY 2022 House CJS Appropriations Bill Passes Committee

The House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations legislation on July 15, 2021, meeting the Biden Administration’s request for $1,442,401,000 for the Census Bureau. It includes $309,865,000 for Current Surveys and Programs ($21,462,000 above the FY 2021 enacted amount) and $1,132,537,000 for Periodic Censuses and Programs ($314,296,000 above the FY 2021 enacted level).

“While we’re appreciative the Administration and the House Appropriations Committee provided an increase in funding from FY 2021, when at this point in the decennial census cycle we would ordinarily see a decrease, the Census Project remains committed to a higher level of funding for essential census programs,” said Census Project Co-Director Howard Fienberg in a press release urging the Senate to properly support Census Bureau modernization.

The committee report provides further details on various policy and funding fronts:

  1. Appropriations accounts will remain the same, for now: The Committee rejects “the new appropriations account structure proposed by the Administration”, but “welcomes continued dialogue with the Department on this effort.”
  2. Prioritize cyber protections for internal census systems: While the Committee “applauds the efforts that led the Census Bureau to successfully and securely execute its first digital-age decennial census, including its work with the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency”, the report expresses concerns about “vulnerabilities that could expose personal census data, thereby undermining the faith in census statistics which are vital to democratic institutions. These vulnerabilities include both system infrastructure weaknesses that could allow motivated cyberhackers to infiltrate Census Bureau servers, as well as reidentification attacks that threaten the confidentiality of personal census data.” The report directs the Bureau “to prioritize cyber protections for internal systems”.
  3. Consult stakeholders regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods (including differential privacy): The Committee Report lays out expectations for “high standards of disclosure avoidance for publicly accessible data, while also ensuring the availability of data products that are useful and sufficiently accurate to inform policy decisions and resource allocations,” as well as regular consultations with Census Bureau “stakeholders, including members of its advisory committees, regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods, and to keep the Committee updated on these efforts.”
  4. Develop mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products: The Committee requires “a report no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act” from the Census Bureau about “its expansion efforts toward mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products, including a cost-benefit analysis of expanding the accessibility of this data to a smartphone application.”
  5. Begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection of sexual orientation and gender identity questions: The Committee “urges the Census Bureau to begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection” of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) “questions in current surveys, in line with standard administrative rules and procedures for adding or modifying existing survey content, and to keep the Committee apprised of these efforts.”
  6. Race and ethnicity data collection and reporting improvements: The Committee Report urges the Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “to facilitate appropriate, scientifically-guided revisions” to federal statistical standards governing collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data “that will allow the Bureau to modernize its collection of race and ethnicity data, including the addition of a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) ethnicity category and a combined race and Hispanic origin question, as soon as practicable.” The Bureau also would need to “report to the Committee, no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, on its plan for implementing updated race and ethnicity questions for the 2030 Census and the American Community Survey, including whether the Census Bureau believes that additional testing will be necessary.”
  7. High Frequency Data Program and census pulse surveys: The provided appropriations for Current Surveys and Programs includes “the requested $10,000,000 for a new High Frequency Data Program that builds upon the success of the ‘pulse’ surveys, which the Census Bureau conducted in response to the COVID–19 pandemic to measure the impacts to small businesses and households. The Census Bureau is directed to keep the Committee updated on new initiatives the Census Bureau will explore under this program to produce timelier and more relevant economic and demographic statistics.”
  8. Use existing resources to increase the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) response rate: The Report reduces the SIPP appropriation by $1 million, as requested by the Administration, because that money was “a one-time expense related to a study funded in fiscal year 2021 to evaluate cost effective collection methods or alternative sources of comparable data on the economic well-being of Americans,” but directs the Bureau to “update the Committee on the findings of this study and encourages the Census Bureau to utilize all available resources to support an increase to the SIPP response rate.”

The House CJS Appropriations bill will likely be voted on the House floor as part of a “minibus” combination of funding bills.

ITIF Taking a Stand on U.S. Statistical System and Census Bureau

A pair of recent reports from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) put down interesting markers for action to improve the federal statistical system.

In April, ITIF came out in favor of dismantling the Commerce Department (which houses the U.S. Census Bureau) and creating “a national statistical agency.”

According to the report, “It makes no sense to have multiple statistics bureaus dispersed in multiple agencies, from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the Census Bureau in Commerce, to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Labor. The GAO noted in 1996 that the United States has around 70 different statistical agencies. Canada, by contrast, has one. Congress should establish a “U.S. Stats” to house Census, BEA, BLS, and ideally other statistical agencies, too.

In July, another ITIF report called for a massive new investment in federal statistical programs.

The national statistical system, as explained in the report, “was and is designed to help facilitate fiscal and monetary policy in order to avoid another Great Depression, and as such, measures things such as the number of houses built and cars manufactured. It has not been adequately modernized to measure the competitiveness of the electronics industry, auto industry, or any other number of important matters, including innovation (the assumption being that those things take care of themselves). If the U.S. government is going to develop more effective policies to spur competitiveness, growth, and opportunity it will need to support better data collection. It should be able to understand the U.S. competitive position vis-à-vis other nations on key technologies and industries, as well as key strengths and weaknesses and where specific policies are needed.

ITIF further makes the case that “budget constraints have meant that U.S. statistical agencies lack the resources needed to effectively measure key elements of the economy,” so it is necessary for Congress to appropriate a lot more money to close gaps in data, and to allow for new and expanded surveys, faster publication timelines, and the modernization of federal data infrastructure.

34 Groups Support Census Bureau Director Nomination

Thirty-four national and state organizations, in academia, research and activism, wrote to the leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on July 14, 2021 to recommend Robert Santos in his nomination to lead the U.S. Census Bureau.

“As a long-time user of Census data and respected member of the Census stakeholder community, Santos is an outstanding nominee for director. He brings the expertise, stakeholder support, and leadership skills needed to lead the largest federal statistical agency. His expertise—which includes quantitative and qualitative research design, sampling, survey operations, and statistical analysis—matches well with the work of the census, especially in the bureau’s work to reach hard-to-count populations such as communities of color.”

Santos’ nomination hearing in committee will be July 15, 2021 at 10:15 a.m. (ET)

Full text of the letter can be found here.

Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators – July 8

On July 8, 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 July 22.

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July 8, 2021: The researchers have received all the requested tables from the US Census Bureau for their state-level work; they are now analyzing the tables and drafting their report. The task force expects to share the state-level report in the next four weeks.

Legislation Introduced to Prohibit Changes to MSA Qualifications

Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the Metropolitan Statistical Area Stabilization Act (S. 1431), legislation that would prohibit the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from raising “the minimum urban area population to qualify a metropolitan statistical area from 50,000.”

OMB decides upon metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas according to 2010 standards applied to Census Bureau data.

A current OMB proposal would increase that 50,000 resident threshold to 100,000. According to a report from the Bookings Institution, that would “bump 142 metro areas that include 251 counties and nearly 19 million people into nonmetro status.” Because “many federal programs rely on the metro/nonmetro designations for policy and funding,” numerous state and local government organizations oppose the OMB proposal.

GAO Reports on 2020 Census Innovations

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the U.S. Census Bureau slowed the growth in the cost of the decennial census, “but did not position itself to know how much money was saved by each of its planned 2020 innovation areas.” GAO said that the Bureau failed to “track the specific innovation areas within their revised cost estimation and budget execution framework and that they focused less on cost savings stemming from the innovation areas as they transitioned to implementing the census.”

GAO recommended that the Census Bureau: (1) “track savings from future innovations”; (2) “research and test any effects of those innovations on data processing timelines”; and (4) “identify and report on additional measures on the effectiveness of the Bureau’s optimization.”

The 49-page report includes a lot more detail and recommendations for executive action.

STANDARD DEVIATIONS: Which Census Bureau Are We Talking About?

By Dr. William P. O’Hare

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

I have been working with the Census Bureau and Census Bureau data since I started my PhD studies more than 50 years ago. I have written a couple of books on Census data accuracy along with numerous articles and reports on the Census. I have been on Census Bureau advisory committees and I have been a consultant to the Census Bureau.

Given that background, I was shocked by a recent suggestion that the Census Bureau and its long-standing imputation[1] program produce some sort of biased results, based on differences between the 2020 population estimates, and the actual census count.

There are several specific shortcomings in this line of thinking.

This perspective assumes the population estimates are more accurate than the census and should be used to determine how many members of congress each state deserves.

This is backwards. The Census Bureau’s population estimation program has been producing state population estimates every year for more than four decades. It is a partnership between states and the Census Bureau under the Federal-State Cooperative Program for Estimates (FSCPE). The estimates produced in this series are typically not thought of as being as accurate as the Census count. Every decade the Census Bureau, and demographers outside the Census Bureau – like those producing business demographics – use the decennial census count to assess the accuracy of their estimates and recalibrate their methodology based on the census count.  It is not unusual for the estimates to differ from the Census count… that is one reason we take a census every ten years.  No one should be surprised that the census counts and the population estimates do not match in the 2020 Census. This is not new…it happens every census. We take a census to recalibrate the population estimates series. If the estimates were as accurate as the census, the country could save billions of dollars by not conducting a census.

Some suggest a political motivation for the use of statistical imputation that sometimes produces a higher count in states they disfavor, while ignoring situations that are not consistent with their bias, inasmuch as imputation is used in blue and red states alike, adding more population than anticipated in some of each.[2]

A more reasonable explanation for why Census counts are higher than estimates in 2020 in some states has to do with the fact that the state governments in states (like California, New York and New Jersey) invested millions of dollars in outreach and state leaders did not join the Trump Administration’s effort to discourage immigrants from participating in the Census. That is consistent with the fact that census self-response rates in Hispanic-majority census tracts in Texas and Arizona are several percentage points below the national average while the self-response rates in California’s Hispanic-majority census tracts were several percentage points higher than the national average.[3]

Having worked with the Census Bureau staff for more than 50 years I feel very confident in saying it is the most non-partisan federal agency I know of. Any attempted politicization of the 2020 Census was due to the former administration which installed several unqualified political appointees at the last minute, tried to add a citizenship question to discourage immigrant participation in the Census, and tried to have undocumented immigrants removed from the apportionment count, among other things.  Census Bureau professional staff tried their best to resist the partisan pressures and conduct a typical non-partisan census. [4]

Similarly, those who seek to cast doubt about imputation, a widely used statistical technique among data producers, show their own bias. Studies show using imputation makes data more accurate than assuming occupied housing units are vacant which is the alternative when people don’t respond to a survey or the census. [5]

Whole-person imputations are used where there is evidence of a person existing but no information about that person. For example, in the Census some people are included by proxy respondent like a landlord or neighbor, who may say there are 4 people who live in a housing unit but can’t provide any more information. At that point, the Census Bureau has two choices, they can decide to leave those four people out of the Census count, or they can impute them. Studies show that imputing such individuals results in more accurate data. The Census Bureau uses information about the neighbors to impute data for the four-missing people. For example, if 90 percent of the neighbors are Asian, they are likely to impute the race of the four missing people as Asian. That makes sense.

The National Research Council,[6] determined that the 1.2 million imputations in the 2000 Census were problematic but concluded that if they had not been imputed the census “would have undoubtedly underestimated the true number of household resident…” According to Cohn, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded, “Without imputation, the court stated, the results would be ‘a far less accurate assessment of the population’” [7]

In the 2010 Census there were 1.2 million Hispanic people and 1.2 billion Black people imputed compared to 3.1 million Non-Hispanic Whites.[8] A higher number of Non-Hispanic White people were imputed than Black people and Hispanic people.

Another frequent complaint is that counting the undocumented is some sort of partisan maneuver. That claim requires disregarding the U.S. Constitution (Article I and Amendment XIV) which mandates that the Census Bureau count everyone living in the country including undocumented immigrants. That is what the Supreme Court ruled.  

I am also struck by facts that anyone claiming partisanship has to ignore in trying to build a case that the Census Bureau is adjusting the data in a partisan way to favor Democrats. The Decennial Census consistently overcounts the Non-Hispanic White population who are more right-leaning politically and undercounts minorities who are more left-leaning politically. In the 2010 Census, there were 6 million Non-Hispanic Whites double-counted while 1.7 million black people and 1.9 million Hispanic people were missed in the census. That is in my book… which perhaps new census critics should consult. [9]

It is not as if I have no complaints about the Census Bureau or concerns about the quality of the 2020 Census data (although the quality metrics I have seen so far, suggest the data from the 2020 Census is not likely to be as bad as some folks think).  But the kind of baseless attacks and misrepresentations of the Census and the Census Bureau reflected in partisan attacks needlessly erodes public trust in one of our basic institutions. The Census not only provides the basic data for reapportionment and redistricting, but it also provides key information that allows government programs to provide assistance to communities in an efficient and effective way. And for businesses to make decisions that lead to a more efficient economy. These recent attacks undermine support for public policy decisions based on data, evidence, and science   Maybe that is the point!

  • 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.

[1]  Imputation is a statistical technic for estimating people and characteristics that are not reported by respondents.   For example, if a respondent does not provide their race when they are responding to the census and 90 percent of the block where they live are Asians, the Census Burau is likely to impute Asian for that respondents’ race.  This makes the dataset more accurate than leaving that item blank.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau (2021). A Preliminary Analysis of U.S. and State-Level Results from the 2020 Census, WP-104, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington DC.

[3] O’Hare, W. P. (2021). Measuring the Quality of the 2020 Census: What Do We Know Now? Presentation at the 2021 Population Association of American Conference, May 5, https://paa2021.secure-platform.com/a/gallery/rounds/9/details/1110

[4] O’Hare, W.P. (2020). “The Politicization of the 2020 Census,” PAA Affairs, Fall 2020, The Population Association of America, Washington DC. https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/POPULATIONASSOCIATION/3e04a602-09fe-49d8-93e4-1dd0069a7f14/UploadedImages/Documents/PAA_Affairs/PAA-Fall_20_.pdf

Frey, W. H.  (2020).  “Trumps new plan to hijack the census will imperil America’s Future,” Brooking Institute, August 7, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/08/07/trumps-new-plan-to-hijack-the-census-will-imperil-americas-future/

The Washington Post (2021. “Commerce department security Unit Evolved into counterintelligence-like operation, Washington Post examination found,” Shawn Boburg, May 24 https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2021/05/24/commerce-department-monitoring-itms/

[6] National Research Council (2004) The 2000 Census Counting Under Adversity.

[7] Cohn, D. (2011). Imputation: Adding People to the Census, Pew Research Center, Washington DC. MAY 4, 2011

[8] U.S. Census Bureau (2012). DSSD 2010 Census Coverages Measurement Memorandum Series #2010-E-51, Table C, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.  

[9] O’Hare W. P. (2019) Differential Undercounts in the U.S. Census: Who is Missing? Springer publishers, available open access at

https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-10973-8