All Things Census
People who turn to the Census Bureau’s latest data release in an effort to answer Sesame Street’s musical query may, in some cases, be puzzled by what they find. The detailed race, ethnicity and population counts make it easy to look up data for any block in America. But those numbers may not be completely accurate—and deliberately so.
A census block is the smallest unit of geography for which data are published, and blocks are the basis for assembling larger geographic entities such as legislative districts. Nationally, there are more than 11 million of them, housing on average 100 people. According to a Census Bureau description, blocks normally are bounded by streets, other prominent physical features or the boundaries of geographic areas. They may be as small as a city block or as sprawling as a 100-square-mile rural area.
The 2010 Census data being released on a state-by-state basis this month and next month, which will be used as the basis for redistricting, include counts down to the block level. Data for each block include counts not just of people in the six basic race groups, but also of people who checked any one of the dozens of multi-race combinations. The data also include counts for Hispanics and non-Hispanics in these dozens of race groups.
But what if there are only one or two people on a block who are in a different race or ethnic category from that of the other residents? In such a case, publication of this level of detail about every block in America runs the risk that a person or household could be identified individually, conflicting with the Census Bureau’s legal obligation to protect the privacy of respondents. Read more
The Government Accountability Office, which had included the 2010 Census on its list of high-risk activities, updated that list this month and stated: “The Bureau generally completed its data collection activities consistent with its plans and released the data used to apportion Congress on December 21, 2010, several days ahead of the legally required end-of-year deadline.” Remaining activities “appear to be on track,” the agency said. Therefore, GAO stated, the 2010 Census is being removed from the high-risk list.
A new report from the Congressional Research Service, “The 2010 Decennial Census: Background and Issues,” reviews the purpose and methodology of the count and describes its field operations and problems. The report also describes ongoing or completed assessments of the census by the bureau and by other government entities.
The inspector general in the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, recently released its quarterly report to Congress on the 2010 Census, as well as a report on contracting practices.
The Pew Hispanic Center has updated its statistical profile of U.S. Hispanics, using data from the 2009 American Community Survey. The profile includes 40 tables on a variety of topics from living arrangements to income to citizenship. Also updated, using the 2009 American Community Survey, was the center’s profile of the U.S. foreign-born population, also consisting of 40 tables with details on characteristics of this population.
These updated profiles complement previously published state and county data for Hispanics from the 2008 American Community Survey.
India’s 2011 national census, which goes into the field this week, includes not just the usual two gender categories, but for the first time a third one, called “other.” The national census in Nepal, to be conducted in May, also will include three gender options, prompted by a ruling by that nation’s highest court ordering greater protections for the rights of transgender, gay and lesbian and bisexual people.
As this posting from the Population Reference Bureau explains, the “third sex” is not a recent concept in many parts of the world, although the change on the census form has generated many stories in the Indian press.
The U.S. census form, as shown here, offers the standard two options, male and female.
The Census Bureau began a gigantic release of 2010 Census data today, publishing detailed race, Hispanic and population totals down to the block level for Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. The bureau will release data for the remaining states (and District of Columbia) over the next two months, with the final state numbers due out before April 1.
The legal purpose of this data is that it will be used as the basis for redrawing the boundaries of political districts within states, from congressional districts to local government boards. But the numbers also will have a fascinating story to tell about racial change, dispersion of the Hispanic population nationwide, population growth or decline and other themes.
A few of the earliest news stories include: Hispanics largest minority in New Jersey in the Star-Ledger; Asian and Hispanic populations skyrocket in Virginia in The Washington Post; New Orleans population drops since 2000 in the Times-Picayune; and Mississippi coast population loss not as great as feared in the Biloxi Sun Herald.
How well did the Census Bureau’s population estimates for the first decade of the 21st century match the actual counts from the 2010 Census? The short answer: Pretty well for the nation, and for all but a handful of states.
The accuracy of these population estimates is important because the numbers, which are released each year in between the once-a-decade census counts, are the basis for distributing billions of dollars in federal funds and are the denominators for rates used in some federal surveys. Unlike the census, which counts people directly, the estimates are assembled using government data, including birth and death certificates, immigration estimates and tax-return statistics on people who changed residences.
As Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves pointed out in a news conference today, it greatly increases confidence in the census count if population numbers that are derived using different methods are similar. Groves said it reflects well on 2010 Census accuracy that the 2010 Census count for the nation, 308,745,538, was close to the bureau’s national population estimate of 308,977,944 on Census Day (April 1, 2010). The 2010 national count also matched up well with population estimates the bureau released last month using demographic analysis, an alternative measurement technique that uses a method somewhat similar to that used in the population estimates.
Digging into the estimates data, Pew Research Center demographer Jeffrey Passel has analyzed how the bureau’s population estimates for states compare with the official 2010 Census counts for states. He began with state estimates for July 1, 2009 (the latest available), and projected them forward to Census Day based on average growth rates for each state for 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. (This method produces a slightly different total for the nation than the Census Bureau computed, 309,081,328.) Read more
A decade ago, the apportionment counts from the 2000 Census showed that North Carolina was the luckiest state in the country. Based on its population gains, it won the last seat in Congress, the 435th. In 2010, though, North Carolina’s fortunes were not as good.
When the 2010 Census apportionment counts were announced last month, they showed that North Carolina fell short of winning the 435th or last seat. This time, the 435th went to Minnesota. (If it is any comfort to North Carolinians, the state would have gained the theoretical 436th seat in Congress, if one existed.)
Census numbers are used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives using a formula that assigns each state one seat, and, one at a time, allocates the remaining 385 places. The allocation is based on the size of each state’s resident population, plus any overseas military and civilian federal workers (and dependents) from that state.
In 2010, North Carolina fell nearly 15,800 people short of the number it would have needed to win the last seat instead of having it go to Minnesota, according to calculations by Pew Research Center senior demographer Jeffrey Passel. Read more
When the Census Bureau announced the first population totals from the 2010 Census for the nation (308.7 million) and for states on Dec. 21, the numbers did not include ethnic or race breakdowns. Those will be released later this year. A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center, using other Census Bureau data, concludes that Latinos played a key role in growth of the nation’s population and growth in states that gained congressional seats because of reapportionment, which is based on census numbers.
Using 2009 population estimates from the American Community Survey, Hispanics accounted for 51% of the nation’s population growth since the 2000 Census, which counted 281 million U.S. residents. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew 9.7%. From 2000 to 2009 (the last year available), the Hispanic population grew 37%.
Looking at population change for each state and the District of Columbia, Hispanics represent a greater share of eligible voter and resident populations in states that will gain congressional seats than in those states that will lose congressional seats, the report concludes. Hispanics represent 15.2% of eligible voters in the eight states that gained congressional seats, compared with 5.4% of eligible voters in the 10 states that lost congressional seats, according to estimates based on the 2009 American Community Survey. (Eligible voters are defined as U.S. citizens who are 18 years or older.) Latinos also represent 23.6% of the resident populations in states that gained seats, compared with 8.4% in states that lost seats.
The report makes the point that because many Latinos are either too young to vote or are not U.S. citizens, their population growth has not translated fully into electoral strength. However, the report states, “the electoral strength of the nation’s largest minority group will continue to grow in the coming decades.”
The first numbers from the 2010 Census, to be released tomorrow, are the state population totals that have been the basis of the proportional division of seats in the House of Representatives since the nation’s early days. The number of House seats has been fixed at 435 since 1913, but there have been numerous tweaks in the methodology used to divide them up—and debate continues today.
The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years in order to divide the House of Representatives “among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State,” except for slaves, who, until the late 1800s, were counted as three-fifths of a person, and certain Indians. Under federal law, the Census Bureau must deliver population totals to the president nine months after Census Day, which now means the deadline is Dec. 31. The reapportioned Congress will convene in 2013.
The first numbers for each state will include a total of residents, as well as an apportionment count that will also include any members of the military or federal employees overseas (and any dependents living with them) who can be allocated back to a particular state. In 2000, more than half a million Americans overseas were included in state apportionment counts. These overseas Americans also were included in the apportionment counts from the 1970 and 1990 censuses. (They won’t be included in the set of totals that are used to redistrict within states.) Read more
The Census Bureau did a better job in 2010 than it had in 2000 reaching out to “hard-to-count” groups, such as minorities and renters, who are more likely to be missed by census-takers than other Americans, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office. The bureau’s outreach included a massive targeted advertising campaign, partnerships with thousands of community organizations, and special counts at institutions such as soup kitchens.
The report, one of three census evaluations released by GAO the week before the Census Bureau is scheduled to publish the first numbers from the 2010 Census, had general praise for the bureau’s outreach efforts (especially the advertising campaign), but noted some faults. It cited a balky and hard-to-use database used by the partnership staff. The report also quoted some census officials who said there was poor coordination between the local offices managing the count in their area and the outreach staff who were assigned to their localities. The Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Center program, which provided questionnaires at 38,000 staffed and unstaffed locations, returned and checked in an average of only 20 forms per site, indicating an operation that “was very resource intensive relative to the number of forms that were returned.”
The GAO noted that the Census Bureau is itself evaluating various aspects of its outreach campaign, with results expected in 2012, so the full impact of its efforts is not yet known. But the report stated, “the Bureau’s rigorous effort to raise awareness, encourage participation, and enumerate HTC (hard-to-count) populations likely played a key role in holding mail participation rates steady in 2010 for the overall population, a significant achievement given the various factors that were acting against an acceptable mail response in 2010.”