Census Bureau Releases 2020 Demographic Analysis: First Quality Indicator of the 2020 Census

On December 15, the Census Bureau released its 2020 Demographic Analysis, which provides a range of estimates for the nation’s population as of April 1, 2020. Instead of collecting responses from households like the 2020 Census, Demographic Analysis uses current and historical vital statistics records and other data (specifically birth and death records, data on international migration, and Medicare records) to estimate the size of the U.S. population.

By releasing these estimates ahead of the first results from the 2020 Census, Demographic Analysis offers an independent measure of the population for comparison with the official census counts. The estimates are also one of two methods used to measure coverage in the decennial census and to provide insight into what population groups may have been undercounted or overcounted.

In addition to the estimates of the total population for the nation, 2020 Demographic Analysis also provides national-level estimates of the U.S. population by age, sex, and broad race and Hispanic origin groups. The complete tables can be found at the 2020 Demographic Analysis home page.

Short-Term Continuing Resolution Gives Another Week to Fund the Census Bureau for FY 2021

Congress has approved a bill to extend the continuing funding of the federal government, including the Census Bureau, for another week.

The extension (H.R. 8900) passed the House on December 9 by a 343-67 vote and the Senate on December 11 by voice vote. President Trump has said he will sign it.

The Census Project voiced support for the recently released Senate CJS Appropriations bill and its proposed $1.79 billion in funding for the Census Bureau. We look forward to final agreement on an appropriations omnibus package within the next week to put the 2020 Census and American Community Survey (ACS) on sound footing for the current Fiscal Year 2021.

County Official in Georgia Urges Extension of Census Reporting Deadlines

The chairman of the Henry County Commission in Georgia, June Wood, is urging the Georgia congressional delegation to “step in and pass legislation to extend” the 2020 Census data reporting deadlines “before the end of this term to protect Georgia and the rest of the country.”

Wood warned that census officials are not able “to verify and report results in this rushed timeline,” thanks to COVID-19. “The accuracy of these results is crucial to Georgia’s economy, as billions of dollars in federal funding is allocated based on Census results. In 2016 alone, Georgia received over $23.8 billion in census-based funding. If there is even a 1% undercount this year in Georgia, the state will lose over $75 million combined in just healthcare, education and job program funding.”

Georgia members of Congress should help extend census reporting deadline. By June Wood. The Georgia Recorder. December 11, 2020

Primer on Evaluating Census Accuracy and Coverage

“It is perhaps more important today than ever before for stakeholders to understand the key approaches and methods for measuring the accuracy of the census.”

A new report by Bill O’Hare, Cara Brumfield and Jae June Lee — “Evaluating the Accuracy of the Decennial Census,” published by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality—discusses how to evaluate “the accuracy of the census—the extent to which published statistics (and the underlying, internal Census Bureau data) align with reality.” Census accuracy “is just one component—albeit an incredibly important one—of the overall quality of the census,” but also encompasses more factors, “such as how timely the publication of census data is and the extent to which census data are available and useful to the broader public.” Since most stakeholders are not statisticians or demographers, the report authors outline “some of the fundamental measures and methods for evaluating census accuracy and their relative strengths and weaknesses.”

Senate Reveals FY 2021 Appropriations Funding for Census Bureau

On November 10, 2020, the Senate Appropriations Committee released all 12 of its appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2021, including the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) bill, which would fund the Census Bureau at nearly $1.8 billion overall. This would include $285 million for the Current Surveys and Programs account and more than $1.514 billion for the Periodic Census and Programs account (but $3.556 million of that amount would be given to the Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General, for investigation and audits of the 2020 Census).

The Senate committee’s recommendation is more than a $5.758 billion decrease in funding from FY 2020. Obviously, compared to a decennial census year, the amount looks small, but the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed more funding than was requested originally in the FY 2021 President’s Budget (nearly $1.672 billion), and more than in either The Census Project’s FY 2021 budget request (just over $1.681 billion), or by the House-passed FY 2021 CJS bill on July 31 (also just over $1.681 billion).

Report language explains that they listened to arguments from The Census Project and stakeholders “that with the unanticipated delay in field operations, it would not be prudent to assume that prior year funds provided for executing the Decennial Census will be available to offset the total needed for fiscal year 2021. Therefore, the Committee provides the full amount identified for fiscal year 2021 in the Independent Cost Estimate for Decennial Census operations.”

Senate appropriators noted that they have “consistently advocated for the Bureau to execute a cost effective and accurate Decennial Census.” With the Census Bureau in the crucial data review, analysis and processing stage of the 2020 Census, the committee report encourages “the Bureau focus on successfully completing any remaining operations.”

However, the appropriations bill makes no mention of extending the census data reporting deadlines to provide additional time for that review, analysis and processing stage.

The committee report provides helpful direction on a number of issues important to  census stakeholders, including:

  • The American Community Survey (ACS): The report urges the Census Bureau “to continue using the ACS as a testbed for innovative survey and data processing techniques,” and then opines on the importance of the rolling survey, which “is often the primary or only source of data available to State, local, and Federal agencies that need adequate information on a wide range of topics.” Because ACS data “is especially important to small towns and rural areas across the country,” the report directs the Census Bureau to “ensure that rural areas are covered with the same accuracy as urban areas to the maximum extent practicable.” Recognizing the problem of respondent burden, the report “expects the Bureau to continue providing updates to the Committee on efforts to evaluate and, where possible, to reduce the number of questions included in the ACS, as well as the steps being taken to ensure that the ACS is conducted as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.”
  • Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP): As explained in the report language, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the White House’s “proposed cut to SIPP” in the Current Surveys and Programs account, as recommended by The Census Project, “and provides no less than the fiscal year 2020 enacted level for this survey.”
  • Evaluating the 2020 Census: The report requires the Bureau to report within a year “evaluating the effectiveness of its 2020 Census operations, the ability to enumerate hard-to-count populations, the overall data quality, as well as the costs and the adequacy of resource allocation throughout the Decennial Census cycle. As part of this evaluation, the Bureau should include elements such as modified operations, the use of secretarial and risk-based contingency funds, and any effects on the quality or accuracy of data derived from the 2020 Census that may be attributable to such modifications.”
  • Making decennial data available: The report encourages the Census Bureau “to work closely with stakeholders representing public interests, the Census Advisory Committees, and the data user community to ensure the availability of accurate data products for use by the public.”
  • Continued study of differential privacy: “The Bureau should continue seeking regular feedback from data users on disclosure avoidance and to evaluate privacy protection methods being considered for other Bureau data programs.”
  • Cybersecurity: The report “directs the Census Bureau to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant agencies,” as well as state and local government stakeholders and the private sector “to prepare for, prevent, and disrupt cyber intrusions and disinformation campaigns that have the potential to impact survey participation or compromise data collected by the Census Bureau.“
  • Local tech partnerships: The committee report urges the Bureau to continue to partner “public libraries and other community technology centers to maximize” survey response.”
  • Improving the Census Bureau’s digital interfaces: The report is supportive of the Census Bureau modernizing “its internal and external digital services consistent with the requirements of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act [IDEA] (Public Law 115–336)… to improve digital service delivery and data dissemination.” The committee specifically called for the Bureau to use “cloud services its website to help achieve cost savings, efficiencies, and compliance.”
  • Renovations at Census Bureau HQ: The committee report rejects “the proposed transfer of” $208 million in prior year 2020 Census funding “to the Census Working Capital Fund to renovate the Suitland, Maryland, headquarters building and other Census facilities” because “the count is still ongoing.” The committee also raised concerns about “the costs of the proposed renovation,” which is intended to allow the Bureau of Labor Statistics to move in.

The House and Senate are expected to negotiate and approve an omnibus appropriations deal to fund the government in FY 2021 before the current Continuing Resolution expires on December 11.

The Silver Lining of the 2020 Census

By Kenneth Prewitt

In 1998, when I first found my way to census headquarters in Suitland – as its new and naïve Director – I was soon impressed by the Bureau’s relentless attention to errors and mistakes in its data products, and the satisfaction when new techniques for correcting these errors were designed and implemented.  I also learned, to my surprise, that while the 2000 census schedule had four months of field operations, five months were dedicated to in-house quality control for the stripped-down apportionment count, then additional months for the more detailed data file needed for redistricting, and even more months for gradually more specialized data products.  I thought I had a reasonable understanding of the census, had even published a few pieces in SSRC and Russell-Sage books, but was wholly unprepared for the magnitude of the Bureau’s quality control operations.

How could that be?  Because the decennial census has phases which, though not secret, are generally invisible to the public — the master address file is one and then the quality checks that follow enumeration is another. The public is made fully aware of the field enumeration phase – through paid advertising, mailed forms, phone calls, complete count committees, school programs, etc. But the Bureau has never promoted the role of the non-enumeration phases in the census process. It should, and especially brag about its many statistically inventive ways that find and fix mistakes, most of which are made by the public itself – the ten-year old who is married with children, the household that returned duplicate forms.

This promotion will be important before the next census.  The 2020 census had to contend with an abnormal level of political interference that produced a steady stream of law suits and uncertainties about major issues – whether a citizenship question would be added to the census form itself, whether undocumented residents would be included in the apportionment count (an issue not yet resolved), and, as political appointees were added by the White House there was conflict over who was actually calling the shots.  Disruption of 2020 plans and schedules were frequent and unpredictable.  And in recent weeks there has been the forced rush to completion, which has substantially cut into the quality control operations. All of this was extensively covered by the press.  The public was confused, left to wonder if the census is more political than scientific. And if so, should it be trusted?

Of course, the census has always and always will be political.  However, it has always and always will be scientific, the latter dependent on quality indicators.  What I see as a silver lining in 2020 is that what had been largely invisible is now very visible.  As the field operations wind down, the centrality of quality indicators in the census process is being prominently highlighted.  Going forward, this centrality will be protected by census stakeholders, will be demanded by census data users, will be improved by academics, will be discussed and debated in the press, will be legally protected and will find its way into legislation.  In time, the results of the quality checks will be viewed as no less important than enumeration itself.  We will not again have a census where the public takes no notice of errors and their correction, where quality indicators appear to be an afterthought, or where insufficient time translates into insufficient application.  The Bureau will make publicly clear that a census without ample time and staff to execute quality checks is a flawed census.  Although no census is perfect, the difference between one where quality controls are fully applied and one where they are not is the difference between fit for purpose, or not.  Publicizing this is a step toward re-building the public trust damaged in 2020.

  • Professor Ken Prewitt is the Former Director of the Census Bureau for the 2000 Census, past Executive VP for the Rockefeller Foundation, and currently Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is also a member of The Census Project’s Advisory Committee.

This article is an excerpted version of a more detailed treatment in Public Seminar.

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.