All Things Census
A newly released Government Accountability Office review of Census Bureau follow-up efforts to reduce errors in the 2010 Census raises an issue that is familiar to survey researchers: The problem of reaching the growing share of Americans who only have cell phones and not landlines. Although the 2010 Census was mainly a mailback operation, the Census Bureau also telephoned nearly 7.4 million households to seek clarification of confusing or potentially incorrect information on their census forms.
This operation, called Coverage Follow-up (CFU), was completed on schedule and under budget, GAO concluded in a report that was one of three evaluations released by the agency the week before the Census Bureau is scheduled to publish the first counts from the 2010 Census. The GAO evaluation also found the bureau completed another follow-up task, Field Verification, on time and under budget. But the agency’s evaluations raised questions about some aspects of the design of both operations, which had as their goal a reduction in the number of Americans who were missed, counted more than once or counted in the wrong place by the 2010 Census.
The problems encountered with telephone follow-up were among a number of issues discussed in the GAO report, but they are the focus of this posting because they are relevant to any research that relies on reaching respondents by telephone. As GAO points out, the National Center for Health Statistics has found that more than 24% of U.S. households only use wireless telephones, not landlines, and work by the Pew Research Center also has found that when survey-takers only call landlines, it can skew their results. Including cell phones in a survey sample adds significantly to the cost and complexity of conducting research.
In the Coverage Follow-up operation, the Census Bureau contacted households with census form problems by telephone, which enabled it to reach more households than it would have been able to with more expensive in-person visits. It also used a commercial database to identify landline phone numbers that were missing or not valid, so as to target its calls more effectively. The Census Bureau only used landlines from the commercial database “due to concerns about not knowing the geographic location of wireless phones it might dial and the possible financial burden on wireless customers of unsolicited calls,” the GAO report said. Read more
A few days before the Census Bureau is scheduled to release the first population totals from the 2010 Census, the Government Accountability Office published three reports evaluating key operations of the decennial count. In a letter to Congress summarizing its findings, the agency pronounced the 2010 Census “operationally successful,” but also suggested that the basic census design “is no longer capable of delivering a cost-effective headcount.”
One of GAO’s reports on the 2010 Census evaluates the the non-response followup operation and other key field operations, and looks ahead to reforms for the 2020 Census. A second report examines several follow-up operations intended to reduce errors from the original count. A third GAO report looks at outreach and enumeration programs for “hard-to-count” populations such as immigrants and the homeless. This posting describes the first report; subsequent postings will explore the other two.
Here are some key sentences, from its letter to Congress, summarizing GAO’s conclusions in the first report: “Although some additional work and more data releases lie ahead, and information on the accuracy of the count is not scheduled to be available until early 2012, this much is clear: The Bureau generally completed the enumeration phase of the 2010 Census on schedule and consistent with its operational plans, and largely surmounted a series of risks that jeopardized the success of the headcount…an operationally successful census was no small accomplishment.”
However, the letter notes, “the 2010 Census required an unprecedented commitment of resources, including recruiting more than 3.8 million total applicants–roughly equivalent to the entire population of Oregon–for its temporary workforce; and it escalated in cost from an initial estimate of $11.3 billion in 2001 to around $13 billion, the most expensive population count in our nation’s history.
“Further, our oversight of the 1990, 2000, and now 2010 Censuses suggests that the fundamental design of the enumeration–in many ways unchanged since 1970–is no longer capable of delivering a cost-effective headcount given the nation’s increasing diversity and other sociodemographic trends.” Read more
The Census Bureau announced today that the first numbers from the 2010 Census will be released on Tuesday, Dec. 21. These include resident population totals for each state (and D.C. and the nation), as well as apportionment population totals that are used to divide the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the states. The apportionment totals include the resident population for each state, as well the number of overseas members of the military and federal workforce (plus dependents living with them) who can be allocated back to a particular state.
The bureau also has a nifty interactive map showing population change and apportionment trends going back to 1910. Click on the reapportionment map for 1920, and there is no data shown. That’s because Congress refused to reapportion that year because officials from rural areas feared the loss of power to growing cities.
This year’s release is a week earlier than in 2000, when the reapportionment and resident population totals were released on Dec. 28, 2000. A dozen seats in the U.S. House changed hands in 2000, with Southern and Western states gaining at the expense of those in the Northeast and Midwest. The same general pattern is expected from the 2010 Census, reflecting a long-term pattern of national population change.
The Census Bureau today released five sets of population estimates for the nation as of April 1–but not from the soon-to-be-released 2010 Census count. The estimates are based on an alternative measurement technique, called demographic analysis, that agency officials say employs plausible assumptions about population change. The demographic analysis estimates range from a low of 305.7 million to a high of 312.7 million. The first numbers from the 2010 Census, which will include a national population total and state totals for reapportionment purposes, will be released later this month.
At a news conference today, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said the five different estimates all make “plausible assumptions.” The analysis will be among three major tools used by the bureau to evaluate the quality of the 2010 Census. The other two include quality measures such as mail return rates from the census itself, and a post-census quality-check survey for which results will be released in 2012.
The demographic analysis methodology is based mainly on use of birth, death, immigration and Medicare records since the 2000 Census. For the population under age 65, bureau officials subtracted the number of deaths from the number of births, added in immigration and subtracted emigration. For the population ages 65 and older, the analysis relied mainly on Medicare enrollment data, supplemented by estimates from the Current Population Survey of older Americans not enrolled in Medicare.
The data exercise sounds deceptively simple, but as this technical paper demonstrates, Census Bureau experts had to make numerous choices based on sometimes-incomplete information. The release of five different sets of estimates reflects a lack of certainty about the data on which the estimates were based. Each of the five sets is based on a different estimate of net international migration over the past decade. The lowest and highest estimates also are based on different estimates of births, deaths and the 65-and-older population. The range of the estimates is 7 million people, of which 5 million is due to differing net immigration estimates, especially counts of unauthorized immigrants.
Bureau officials have used this alternative technique for decades to check the quality of the door-to-door census count, and to improve the accuracy of the annual population estimates between census counts. A decade ago, the bureau’s initial total derived by demographic analysis was markedly lower than its 2000 Census count–279.6 million, compared with 281.4 million. A major reason was that demographic analysis had underestimated unauthorized immigration; there also were issues with birth statistics and race classification. For 2010, bureau officials attempted to improve their immigration estimates by analyzing data from the American Community Survey, which went fully operational in mid-decade, and by consulting outside experts.
In addition to the national population totals, the five series of estimates also include numbers for men and women, for each single year of age, for race groups (only black and non-black because of data limitations), and for the Hispanic population under age 20 (again, because of data limitations, the full Hispanic population was not estimated). There are no estimates for states or other geographic units below the national level, again because of limited data.
Although the estimates released today are not 2010 Census numbers, bureau officials will use them to help evaluate the quality of the census count. In particular, after detailed race, age and gender numbers from the census come out in 2011, demographers will examine any patterns of difference between the census counts and demographic analysis estimates to see how both measurements can be improved.
At a news conference, Groves emphasized that the estimates had been developed independently of the 2010 Census counts; the demographic analysis team was “sequestered,” he said, from the work on 2010 Census totals. The demographic analysis released today also was not based on the annual population estimates that use a similar methodology; the last national estimate said that as of July 2009, the U.S. population was 307 million.
This is a major year for census-taking around the world.The five largest nations (China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil) are counting their populations in 2010, as are numerous others. Here are links to some recent census news from other nations:
The Mexican census has produced its first results, a population count of 112.3 million people. the 2000 Census counted 97.4 million people living in Mexico.
According to a report, more than one million Russians refused to participate in that nation’s census. Ecuador required everyone to stay at home on Census Day, and arrested those who did not obey.
Iraq, however, is not among the census-taking nations this year. Its government once again delayed the national population count, which was supposed to take place next week, because of disagreement over how to conduct the census in the nation’s north.
Net migration–the number of people who move into a place minus the number who move out–can reflect local economic conditions, but a new analysis of population loss in rural areas finds that other factors also can play a role. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, high outmigration tends to be related to quality-of-life considerations in many nonmetropolitan counties–specifically, these counties are “remote, thinly settled, and lacking in scenic appeal for prospective residents or tourists.”
The report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, “Nonmetropolitan Outmigration Counties,” notes that nearly half of the counties outside metropolitan areas have lost population from 1988 to 2008, especially among young people with relatively high education and skill levels. The report used annual migration estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau as a starting point to identify counties that lost population, and added in other demographic, geographic and socioeconomic indicators. The report also cited data from a USDA survey of manufacturers that asked about specific reasons that these employers may avoid outmigration counties.
The decline in marriage rates, changes in children’s living arrangements, rise of cohabitation–as well as how the American public feels about these and other changes in family life–are explored with Census data and a public opinion survey in a new report from the Pew Research Center. The report finds that Americans have mixed feelings of acceptance and unease about the changes they see in society, but are optimistic about the future of marriage and the family.
The report from the center’s Social & Demographic Trends project, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” finds that nearly four-in-ten Americans (39%) say that marriage is becoming obsolete, according to findings of a survey conducted in partnership with TIME. This finding takes place in a demographic context of declining marriage rates: According to Census Bureau data, only 52% of adults ages 18 and older were married in 2008, compared with 72% in 1960. Marriage has declined among all groups, but especially so among Americans on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Increasingly, a “marriage gap” has emerged in which adults with college educations and good incomes are notably more likely to be married than are adults with less education and lower incomes.
The report presents detailed findings about attitudes of men and women, race and ethnic groups, age groups and people who live in different types of family arrangements. It also analyzes demographic data that illuminate changes in the American family in recent decades.
China is taking its once-a-decade census, sending six million enumerators door-to-door, and will attempt to count people where they actually live, rather than where their households are officially registered. This represents a change from the methodology that has prevailed since the Peoples Republic of China was founded in 1949.
Major challenges during the 10-day enumeration period will include determining China’s true number of migrant workers, who have helped fuel economic growth but who do not necessarily want the central government to know where they live. In an effort to count all children, the government has promised reduced fines for parents who have violated China’s one-child policy if they come clean to census-takers.
Beyond those particular challenges, Chinese officials say they face growing concerns about personal privacy rights, an issue that also hampers census-taking in many other nations. In an attempt to address those concerns, the census form does not ask about income or religion. According to the Associated Press, the names and photos of census-takers are posted on neighborhood bulletin boards to help residents avoid scam artists posing as enumerators. Read more
Imagine that you see two people in the distance walking alongside each other down a busy sidewalk. Maybe they are a couple. Maybe they just happen to be heading in the same direction. In a crowd of people on a city street, it’s hard to tell.
That same challenge arises when researchers look at possible links among social, economic and demographic trends. Two trends are heading in the same direction, but are they related? Correlation, the statisticians frequently warn, is no guarantee of causation.
There is wide interest by researchers and journalists in finding data from the Census Bureau and other sources that could illustrate the impacts of the Great Recession on American life. This posting recounts a recent debate over the strength of potential links between the recent decline in marriage rates and the national economic downturn.
When the Census Bureau released its 2009 American Community Survey estimates Sept. 29, many news accounts focused on showing how the numbers illustrated the impact of the Great Recession. A number of news stories—including those in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Bloomberg news service, Associated Press and AOL news—picked up on findings that for the first time, more 25-to-34-year-olds have never married than are married. Among those ages 18 and older, 52% are married, the lowest proportion since the government began collecting data on this measure more than a century ago. Read more
The total included 2% of households for which forms were received after the April 27 deadline, too late to stop the bureau from sending a census-taker to knock on the door. The 72% mail participation rate achieved before that deadline also matched the 2000 Census rate.
The Census Bureau news release included a statement by agency director Robert Groves that he was very pleased. Data for individual states, counties, cities and neighborhoods are available on the bureau’s website.