The Next Census Scientific Advisory Committee Meeting is November 12th

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee will next meet (virtually) on November 12, 2020.

With 2020 Census counting operations now shut down and controversy continuing over a severely shortened data analysis and processing stage, the 2020 Census will likely be on the menu, but the Census Bureau is already in the planning stage for the 2030 Census, and there are plenty of scientific and method concerns facing the committee.

Interested viewers can connect via WebEx on Nov. 12 (1-3 p.m. Eastern).

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Proposal to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from 2020 Census Apportionment Count

On October 16, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear oral arguments on November 30 regarding a lower court ruling that determined the Trump Administration cannot exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census apportionment count.

The Trump administration brought the case to the Supreme Court after a panel of New York federal judges ruled in September that a presidential memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count was unlawful.

The Census Project has posted numerous stories in its daily news feed about this ruling, including the following:

Senators Make Another Bipartisan Appeal for 2020 Census Counting Operation Extension

A bipartisan group of Senators are urging U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “to continue all 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations through October 31, 2020, as originally planned.”

A letter led by Sen. Michael Rounds (R-SD), with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) expressed concern “about the earlier deadline undercounting American citizens, specifically American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Most native American reservations are designated as hard to count by the Census Bureau. “Many reservation residents receive their mail at post office boxes, not physical residences, and as a result, they do not receive Census surveys by mail. Hand delivery to physical addresses is required. Furthermore, many reservation residents do not have internet access or computers and find it much more difficult to complete online surveys.”

The letter also highlighted the significant negative disparity between Indian country and the rest of the U.S. in completion rates.

Read the Senators’ letter.

2020 Census Counting Operations Ending October 15 Following Supreme Court Stay

On October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a preliminary lower court injunction that had prevented the White House from ending the 2020 Census early. Counting operations will now end by October 15, with the Trump Administration still aiming to deliver apportionment data from the 2020 Census on December 31, 2020.

After requesting an extension of the legal deadlines for reporting census data on April 13 so that the Census Bureau could adapt to COVID-19 and collect data until October 31, the Administration changed course and sought to end all counting operations a month early (September 30). The district court issued a preliminary injunction on September 24 prohibiting the Administration from further implementing a rushed census plan that was forcing the Census Bureau to finish data collection by September 30 and to recommit to a shortened timeline for data analysis, review and processing. With the Census Bureau preparing to end counting operations early anyway, the district court issued a further stay and clarified its original injunction on October 1. The Administration then asked for the Supreme Court to intervene.

While the Supreme Court stay order did not include any comment, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a lengthy dissent, noting that “meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying, especially when the Government has failed to show why it could not bear the lesser cost of expending more resources to meet the deadline or continuing its prior efforts to seek an extension from Congress. This Court normally does not grant extraordinary relief on such a painfully disproportionate balance of harms.

The Census Bureau now says that counting operations will end on October 15, 2020, and that they have counted 99.9 percent of American households. Unfortunately, the completion rate tells us next to nothing about the accuracy of the count. As explained by a new American Statistical Association (ASA) task force report, “the percent of completed cases does not suffice to draw conclusions about data quality. For example, included in the tally of completed enumerations are households counted through a proxy response from a neighbor, including cases in which the proxy could provide no information beyond a guess of the number of individuals living in the household. In fact, meeting enumeration goals for a truncated deadline increases the likelihood of operational shortcuts that will jeopardize the quality of the count.

Stakeholders are thus continuing to urge passage of the bipartisan 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act (S. 4571 and H.R. 8250), either alone or as part of another legislative package, to extend the statutory reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census. This would allow for the full five months of data analysis, processing and review originally planned by the Census Bureau to ferret out errors, such as undercounts and double counts, instead of the 2 ½ months now allotted for that phase.

Stakeholders are also urging the adoption of the ASA task force report’s recommendations to measure data quality.

How to Measure the Quality of the 2020 Census

A new task force report from the American Statistical Association (ASA) states that, with “the importance of the many ways in which census data are used, the American public needs to know whether census information presents an accurate picture of our nation’s population.” Since the Census Bureau’s current plans for quality assessment are “unknown,” and “the 99 percent completion rate by state publicly released to date is insufficient to measure quality,” the ASA “2020 Census Quality Indicators” report recommends detailed indicators to measures of quality, accuracy, and coverage of the 2020 Census.

The Census Bureau has aimed to get to 99 percent completion of enumeration in every state, but the ASA report explains that, “the percent of completed cases does not suffice to draw conclusions about data quality. For example, included in the tally of completed enumerations are households counted through a proxy response from a neighbor, including cases in which the proxy could provide no information beyond a guess of the number of individuals living in the household. In fact, meeting enumeration goals for a truncated deadline increases the likelihood of operational shortcuts that will jeopardize the quality of the count.”

Given the rushed census timeline and COVID-19, the ASA task force report recommended that the Census Bureau should make its usual quality assessment results from self-response and nonresponse follow-up “public at the census tract levels in order to ascertain the extent to which some areas may have been counted more accurately than others and determine the data’s fitness for various uses.” Thanks to increased automation, more indicators from the 2020 Census field operations will be available, such as the daily “processing and assignment of the NRFU cases.”

According to former U.S. Chief Statistician Nancy Potok, the discussed “indicators are an important first step in a discussion on data quality,” followed by the “expeditious application of them to the 2020 decennial data” by the White House, “along with transparent reporting of each quality indicator to lawmakers and the public.”

Once the recommended “quality indicators are published,” the ASA task force report suggests granting “[q]ualified external researchers… access to the data to help conduct the analyses,” continued assessment as more data becomes available, and building on 2020 Census lessons, with public input, in preparation for the 2030 Census.

Experts on the task force included Potok, the current ASA president, a former Census Bureau chief scientist, a former Census Bureau chief demographer, a former Census Bureau senior mathematical statistician, former members of Census Advisory Committees, three former Census Bureau directors, and a former president of the ASA.

The 25 Area Census Offices Farthest from Completion

Steve Pierson and Jonathan Auerbach of the American Statistical Association (ASA) compiled the 25 area census offices (ACO) with the farthest yet to go in completing household responses for the 2020 Census, as of September 29, 2020. They noted that 19 of these bottom 25 are from nine southeastern predominantly Republican states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

ACO #NameStatePercentage Complete
3110Window RockAZ75.6
2985Gwinnett CountyGA85.9
3156Colorado SpringsCO87.5
2977Seminole CountyFL89.3
2376Philadelphia – PennPA89.3
3108Maricopa WestAZ90.5
2996Greenville, NCNC90.6

House Prepares Revised HEROES Act with Updated Census Provisions

The U.S. House of Representatives may pass a revised version of the HEROES Act as soon as today, with modified language extending the census reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census and additional funding.

The House passed the original bill in May (see The Census Project’s May 2020 Update).

The new legislation tacks on another $10 million of emergency funding, for the Census Bureau’s Working Capital Fund in the Current Surveys and Programs account. This comes in addition to the $400 million from the original for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and related delays and disruptions. The bill designates the new addition “for necessary expenses incurred as a result of the coronavirus, including for payment of salaries and leave to Bureau of the Census staff resulting from the suspension of data collection for reimbursable surveys conducted for other Federal agencies:”

It also removes the prior legislative language to extend the census data reporting deadlines and replaces it with the language from the bipartisan 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act (H.R. 8250), including the requirement that “the Census may not conclude the Nonresponse Followup operation or the Self-Response operation before October 31, 2020.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has referred to the revised HEROES Act as a $2.2 trillion compromise to move toward a final coronavirus relief bill with the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it contains “poison pills” and that the Senate will not consider it.

  • See the text of the revised HEROES Act and a section-by-section summary.

Preliminary Injunction Allows Extension of 2020 Census Data Collection

On September 24, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California issued a Preliminary Injunction prohibiting the Trump administration from further implementing the “rushed census plan” that had forced the Census Bureau to finish data collection by September 30 and to recommit to processing, tabulating, and reporting state population totals used for congressional apportionment by the current statutory deadline of December 31, 2020. The full opinion is posted  at this link.   

The Census Bureau is expected to issue a statement about how it will proceed operationally. Unless and until a Stay of the judge’s Order is granted, counting operations will continue through October and any plans to rush the delivery of apportionment data by December 31 are on hold. The federal government is appealing this Order to the Ninth Circuit, continuing the uncertainty surrounding completion of the 2020 Census. Judge Koh late today denied the Trump DOJ request to Stay her order so the case now proceeds to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Census stakeholders continue to urge Congress to act by approving language that would extend the 2020 Census statutory reporting deadlines. They are also urging members in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to support bipartisan legislation, 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act (the Schatz/Murkowski/Sullivan bill, S. 4571, and the Young/Gallego bill, H.R. 8250) that would also extend data collection activities and the statutory reporting deadlines. For interested organizations, The Census Project has posted talking points that explain the issues and provide additional information about the 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act. 

Commerce Department IG Alert to Deleterious Consequences from Accelerated 2020 Census Timetable

In reviewing “the circumstances surrounding the accelerated 2020 Census schedule,” the Commerce Department’s Inspector General (IG) has found that the decision to rush the completion of the 2020 Census “was not made by the Census Bureau” and that the “accelerated schedule increases the risks to obtaining a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

A new IG report, “The Acceleration of the Census Schedule Increases the Risks to a Complete and Accurate 2020 Census,” (No. OIG-20-050-M) explained that “to produce a quality 2020 Census, both the data collection and data processing components are critical,” and both risk being shortchanged by an accelerated timetable.

Under the rushed schedule, time allowed for non-response follow-up (NRFU) was reduced “from approximately 80 days to approximately 56 days. Other changes to data collection included reducing certain contact attempts from six to one, such as contact attempts to housing units with conflicting information.” Census Bureau staff told the IG “that the largest risk to data collection posed by the accelerated plan was the decreased time to recover from possible external contingencies affecting local areas or regions. As one senior official put it, there is no ‘time to spare in the operations anymore.’” Beyond risks from exogenous events, like natural disasters, the Census Bureau now lacks any “‘runway’ of time to correct discovered errors through re-enumeration, as was necessary in the field portion of the 2010 and 2000 Censuses.”

The Census Bureau “determined that to meet the December 31, 2020, deadline,” as requested by the Commerce Department, “data processing must begin October 1, 2020. That, in turn, shortened the time that the Bureau had to process the data from 150 days to 90 days.”

Senior Census Bureau staff “identified several risks in the data processing phase,” including that: (1) “the processing time has been so compressed that if an error is found, and a program needs to be started again, the Bureau may not be able to do so and still meet the December 31, 2020, statutory deadline”; and (2) “certain planned data processing reviews have been shortened or removed entirely.”

The IG noted that even top staff at the Census Bureau, “including the Director, did not know who ultimately made the decision to accelerate the Census schedule,” so the IG report can’t identify who made the decision. “However, Bureau officials confirmed that the decision was not the Bureau’s.”

This new IG report comes hard on the heels of another IG report, released last week, which examined the Census bureau’s “quality control processes” designed “to ensure that enumerators follow procedures when conducting interviews with households.” It warned that “failure to adhere to quality control processes increases the risk of data inaccuracy,” and “that ACO supervisors are not resolving alerts within the 3-day timeframe established to minimize the number of enumerator actions that do not follow procedures.” (See “Delays to Resolving Alerts Limit the Bureau’s Ability to Maintain or Improve the Quality of 2020 Census Data Final Memorandum.” No. OIG-20-048-M. September 17, 2020.)

2020 Census and New Continuing Funding Resolution

On Monday, September 21, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) introduced a continuing resolution (CR), H.R. 8319, to extend federal government funding through December 11—a necessary action since the current fiscal year (Fiscal Year (FY 2020)) ends on September 30. The agreement, which was struck by House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, will be considered in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 22. It is expected to pass. The timeline for Senate consideration has not been announced, but it must be approved before the end of the Fiscal Year on September 30 (otherwise, we risk a potential government shutdown).  

Census stakeholders had been urging negotiators to include language in the CR to extend the 2020 Census statutory reporting deadlines, such as from the bipartisan Census Deadline Extension Act (S. 4571, H.R. 8250). The final agreement does not include this language.

It does, however, provide the Census Bureau with $1.514 billion to support 2020 Census operations. The amount represents the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 request for the Periodic Census and Programs account plus $122 million. The Administration’s request had assumed $122 million in carryover spending from FY 2020 to FY 2021. By providing the additional $122 million in the CR, the Census Bureau is guaranteed access to this funding rather than assuming the carryover balances will be available to support additional 2020 Census costs through December 11. The CR also allows the Census Bureau to spend their funding at a faster rate, granting the agency additional flexibility if it is needed.