All Things Census


New Measure of Participation in the 2010 Census

For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau will use a new real-time metric, called the “mail participation rate,” to report the share of U.S. households-by state, city, county and neighborhood-that send back their completed forms. Why is this important?

The Census Bureau hopes to count every American in the coming months, but it has a hefty financial incentive to count them quickly. Census forms arrive in most home mailboxes next week. If a household sends back its postage-paid census form, the government spends less than 50 cents in mailing costs. If the completed form does not arrive back by late April, the Census Bureau will send an enumerator to knock on the non-respondent’s door, which costs $57.

As part of its promotional campaign to encourage households to return their forms fast, the Census Bureau plans to release mail participation rates down to the neighborhood level each weekday, from March 22 to April 26. Knowing where the problems are could help the bureau and its partner organizations—such as local governments and community groups—steer their census-encouragement efforts to the areas that could benefit most.

The 2010 mail participation rates will be displayed daily on a recently launched Census Bureau mapping tool, where users already can see 2000 data for states, counties, cities and census tracts (neighborhood-level units of about 4,000 people). For the Bureau’s publicity campaign, the mail participation rate replaces the “mail response rate” used in the 2000 Census because, for reasons described below, officials believe the new measure will give a truer picture in places with large numbers of foreclosed and vacant homes. Read more


Dollars and Census

A Brookings Institution report released today analyzes in detail the federal money that is distributed to states and localities each year based on results of the once-a-decade census. It concludes that in fiscal year 2008, “215 federal domestic assistance programs, or 15.9 percent of all programs, used census-related datasets to help guide the distribution of $446.7 billion.”

Because of recently added federal economic stimulus funding, it is likely that more than $500 billion a year will be spent based on the 2010 Census, according to the report.

Accompanying the report are tables that display the level of federal census-guided funding for states, large metropolitan areas and large counties.


Census History: Counting Hispanics

Despite the long history of Hispanic residents in the United States, there was no systematic effort to count this group separately in the Census until the late 20th century. An analysis of changes in Census question wording over recent decades reveals the challenges in trying to count and describe this fast-growing population.

An estimated 48 million Hispanics are now living in the U.S., or almost 16% of the population. Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, having surpassed African Americans in number in 2001. The growth of the Hispanic population this century is due mainly to births in the United States, not immigration from abroad, a reversal of the pattern over the previous four decades.

There was a one-time inclusion of a “Mexican” race category in the 1930 Census, when forms were filled out by census-takers who went door to door. The first major attempt to estimate the size of the Hispanic population for the entire nation was in the 1970 Census, in which forms were completed by residents themselves. The question appeared on one of the two long-form questionnaires sent to a sample of the population, not the short form that everybody answered. The question asked: “Is this person’s origin or descent—“ and the response categories were: “Mexican,  Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, Other Spanish,” and “No, none of these.”

This question did not work very well.  The total count of 9.1 million reported in that census was about 500,000 less than other estimates for the Hispanic population. (See this page on the Census Bureau website for data and more history)  Further, even this 9.1 million count was about 1 million higher than responses to the question by people of Hispanic origin. According to later research, a major problem was that hundreds of thousands of people living in the south or central regions of the U.S. mistakenly were included in the  “Central or South American” category.  As is its usual policy, Census reports on the Hispanic population in 1970 use the originally reported figures. Read more


Census 2010: A New Mapping Tool

A recently launched online mapping tool allows users to display and download Census data for states, cities, counties and neighborhoods that indicate how difficult it might be to count the people living in those areas in the 2010 Census.

The interactive site is derived from the Census Bureau’s hard-to-count database, which assembles a dozen housing, demographic and socioeconomic variables that were correlated with poor response rates in the 2000 Census. Those indicators include the poverty rate, share of households where English is not spoken very well, and proportion of homes that are rented.

The site, developed by researchers at the City University of New York with foundation funding, allows users to display these indicators for each level of geography down to the census tract, a neighborhood unit of about 4,000 people. For each census tract, users can access the Census Bureau’s “hard-to-count score,” which is a summary measure based on the hard-to-count variables, as well as the 2000 Census mail return rate for each area and additional demographic data.

This tool is intended to help local governments and Census Bureau partner organizations target their efforts to promote participation in the 2010 Census by focusing on areas where outreach is needed. The data also can be of use to researchers, journalists and others seeking information about these areas.


Recent Evaluations of 2010 Census Operations

Wide-ranging assessments of 2010 Census operations have recently been published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and by the U.S. Commerce Department’s inspector general.

Both agencies have  undertaken real-time evaluations of Census Bureau operations for some years. The GAO, a congressional agency, maintains a web page about its work on the decennial census that links to its most recent 2010 Census evaluations. [Update: The link is no longer active because GAO removed the 2010 Census from its list of high-risk activities.] The inspector general’s office in the Commerce Department, of which the Census Bureau is a part, includes links on its home page to its other work on the 2010 Census.


A Demographic Portrait of the Millennial Generation

Our new report on the Millennial generation includes a chapter that uses Census data to compare the demographic makeup, living arrangements and life experiences of this group of teens and twenty-somethings with older Americans when they were the same age. Census numbers also are the basis of an interactive graphic comparing the generations.

Overall, Millennials are more racially and ethnically diverse than older generations, more educated, less likely to be working and slower to settle down.


Counting Prisoners in the 2010 Census

When the Census Bureau counts prisoners, they are tallied at their prison addresses because that is their usual residence under census rules. Some government officials and advocates have urged the Census Bureau to count prisoners at their home addresses, arguing that counting them in prisons gives disproportionate power to the areas (often rural) where those facilities are located. This week, the Census Bureau agreed to give states more power to address this issue themselves when 2010 Census numbers come out.

Census population totals are used to draw the boundaries of state legislative districts or other voting districts, which by law must be of equal size. To illustrate the outsize power that some prison communities have, one advocacy group cites the example of Anamosa, Iowa, where counting the non-voting inmates in a prison gave the 56 people living in the ward where it was located effectively as much influence as the 1,374 people living in each of the other wards. The city later abolished the prison district. An evaluation of census residence rules in 2006 by the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) said the evidence is “compelling” that political inequities result from current practice.

Bureau officials say it is impractical to count prisoners at their home addresses for a variety of reasons. For example, would a prisoner serving a life sentence be counted in a community in which he has not lived for decades? The National Research Council report agreed that currently it is not practical to do that, but said that improved record-keeping and census-taking procedures might make it possible.

Short of that, the council urged the bureau to provide detailed counts of prison populations at the census tract or block level more quickly, so as to help states and localities decide on their own whether to exclude inmates in drawing up boundaries of legislative and other voting districts. The Census Bureau by law must provide block-level basic population data by April 1, 2011 to help states with their redistricting process. Under the usual timetable, the detailed data about prisoners might not be available until summer of 2011. According to advocacy organizations and news accounts, the bureau has committed to produce the detailed data by May 2011.


Covering Census 2010: A Workshop for Journalists

Journalists Ron Nixon of the New York Times and Paul Overberg of USA Today presented a workshop for journalists on how to cover the 2010 Census at the Pew Research Center Jan. 21. The session was moderated by D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the center and the former demographics reporter for The Washington Post. The workshop  was co-sponsored by Investigative Reporters and Editors.

In the following edited excerpts, ellipses have been omitted to facilitate reading.

D’VERA COHN:  I’d like to welcome you to the second part of our Census 2010 event, a workshop for journalists.  First I want to thank our cosponsor, IRE, and especially its director Mark Horvit for agreeing to put this on with us.  IRE, as many of you know, offers training, data and expertise. I know they’re planning to ramp up their ability to reach out and help journalists with the 2010 Census.

We at the Pew Research Center also have plans and some things that have already been implemented to report on the findings and methods of the census itself.  We launched an All Things Census” page yesterday with postings about census findings and methods, which will include some of our work as well as links to work from around the country, including some news stories.  So please send us links to your stories if you think we should comment on them.

We released a poll yesterday that was mentioned in the first session about census attitudes and awareness.  We’re doing our own line of research on this, I might add, independent of the Census Bureau.  They didn’t have a voice in designing the questionnaire, which is about what people know of the census and what their plans are to answer forms or not answer their forms.

In keeping with our informal spirit, I won’t give you a long introduction for our speakers except to say our first speaker, Ron Nixon, has had years of experience with data, working for IRE, working in Minneapolis and now as a projects journalist for the New York Times in Washington.  Paul Overberg has been the database guru at USA Today for many years.  I think he may know more about the census than some people at the bureau itself.  I think between the two of them we’ve got it covered. Read more


About That Census 2010 Super Bowl Ad

The Census Bureau’s $2.5 million purchase of a 30-second ad during the third quarter of Sunday’s televised Super Bowl is making news today, following criticism from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who called the buy “out of touch with what’s going on in the real world” where Americans are hurting because of the poor economy.

The Census Bureau defended the ad, saying its own research indicates that few Americans are aware the 2010 Census is coming in March, and the Super Bowl ads are a much-talked-about means of building that awareness.

By midday, McCain’s criticism, and the Census Bureau’s defense, had generated items in The Washington Post, The Hill blog, as well as Fox News (where McCain raised his objections to the ad yesterday).

A recent Pew Research Center survey about census awareness found that most Americans know something about the census and think positively of it, but that knowledge and positive attitudes are lower among some key sub-groups.

As to whether census advertising is effective, an evaluation of the 2000 Census by the National Research Council, cited in yesterday’s posting, said that linking ads to individual behavior is “typically very difficult in market research,” but it was “likely” that advertising and other outreach boosted participation, in part by creating a wave of good feeling about the national headcount.


Census Advertising: Does It Work?

One of the paid ads that will air during Sunday’s Super Bowl will be promoting the 2010 Census, telling Americans that it’s coming soon and urging them to participate. By the time Census Day arrives April 1, the Census Bureau will be one of the nation’s biggest ad buyers. It has budgeted $140 million for the campaign.

What is known about whether these types of ads work? How will the Census Bureau measure success?

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves was asked about that topic during a recent forum on the 2010 Census at the Pew Research Center.

Researchers generally are reluctant to say that a specific trigger was the only cause of a specific behavior, because in the real world, there are many other potential factors in play.  Speaking as a social scientist on the link between advertising and Census participation, Groves said, “We can’t provide that causal link.”

However, he added, “We can make pretty good arguments,” some of them based on past experience. After the 2000 Census, an evaluation by the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) said it was “likely” that paid advertising helped raise the participation rate. Read more