All Things Census


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


Challenges Ahead for the 2010 Census

Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, spoke at a forum on the 2010 Census on Jan. 21 about challenges the Census Bureau faces in attempting to count everybody. He also talked about the potential problem of differing data from the 2010 Census and American Community Survey. The event was held at the center; it also was sponsored by the American Statistical Association and the DC chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research.

In this edited transcript, ellipses are not used in order to facilitate reading.

I’m going to talk about the next year to two years.  The Census Bureau has in many ways, I think, had an extraordinary decade.  Not without issues, but I’m going to focus more on the positive than the negative.

Census 2000 was in many ways extremely successful.  The net undercount was very low, notwithstanding some issues of duplicates.  The black/not-black difference in coverage was reduced substantially.  They reached a timely decision not to adjust.  Be it right or wrong, they did it on time and they got data out in a very usable way very quickly.  The challenge in many ways, I think, is to repeat that and do at least as well and hopefully improve.

The second challenge is the American Community Survey.  It may not be the war, the army of the census, but it’s close.  And it’s been rather remarkable.  It has changed the culture of the Census Bureau in many ways, some very apparent and some subtle in the way the analysts at the Census Bureau work. Read more


Counting Every Address in the Census: Joseph Salvo at Pew Research Center

Joseph Salvo, New York City’s in-house demographic consultant, spoke at a Jan. 21 forum on the 2010 Census at the Pew Research Center about how building a strong address list is a key task to ensure that no one is missed in the census count. Salvo, director of the Population Division at the New York City Department of City Planning, discussed how officials in his city reviewed and expanded the list of addresses to be contacted by 2010 Census officials. He also suggested ways to improve the address-review process.

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

The Master Address File is the foundation for the census. Everyone needs to be tied to a location. It’s the basis for representation. Irrespective of what vehicles you use to collect data, you need to be tied to an address of some sort.

The creation, review or correction of this master list of addresses is a critical process, and one that is very near and dear. I want to tell you a little bit about what we’ve done in New York City and raise some issues, get you thinking as we move forward.

The current system as it exists essentially provides for systematic updates of this master list of addresses. It’s done through the U.S. Postal Service, where the Postal Service delivers information to the Census Bureau, and the Census Bureau updates new housing units that come on line. And there are field efforts in rural areas that are used to update the address list. Read more


Constance F. Citro on Census Planning and Evaluation

Constance F. Citro, director of the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academy of Sciences, spoke about the challenges of conducting the 2010 Census and the need to plan now for the 2020 count at the Pew Research Center last week. The committee has evaluated major aspects of every census since the 1980 count.

She made her remarks at a Jan. 21 forum on the 2010 Census that was co-hosted by the center, the Washington Statistical Society and the DC chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research. In the following edited excerpts, ellipses have been omitted to facilitate reading.

The Committee on National Statistics is a standing committee of the National Academy of Sciences.  Its members serve pro bono. [Census Director] Bob Groves was a distinguished member of the committee for a number of years.  We’ve been around since 1972 and we have done work on the census almost without interruption since that time.

Our first report was a quick review of the plans for the 1980 Census.  And I want to point out that it actually recommended paid advertising as opposed to public service announcements.  Well, that was not done in 1980; it was not done in 1990.  But it was done in 2000 and, from what we have heard, it looks like the 2010 program is a step up from 2000.

Our newest study will look at the 2010 Census and, in particular, look forward to 2020.  The study panel is chaired by Janet Norwood, the former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Tom Cook, who is a systems engineer member of the National Academy of Engineering. Read more


Transcript: Census Bureau Director Robert Groves at Pew Research Center

The transcript of Census Bureau Director Robert Groves’ remarks on the 2010 Census at the Pew Research Center last week is available. It includes several of the slides that he used to illustrate his talk.

Groves appeared at a Jan. 21 forum co-sponsored by the center, the Washington Statistical Society and the Washington chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research. His presentation went into detail about the agency’s operations and outreach plans that are intended to produce as complete a count as possible of all U.S. residents. He also spoke about plans to track participation in real time, and to perform a post-census evaluation.

Audio of Groves’ presentation was posted earlier on this site. More material from the event will be posted soon.


How the Population Clock Works

The population clock on the All Things Census page is derived using national-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which produces estimates of the country’s total resident population and the components that are the building blocks of  demographic change.

Those components include births, deaths and net international migration, computed using data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. In December 2009, the Census Bureau estimated there was a birth every eight seconds, a death every 12 seconds and one net new immigrant every 37 seconds.

The population clock updates these changes at regular intervals, although in reality, these events are not evenly spaced. There are fewer births on weekends, for example, than on weekdays.

A more detailed report on the methodology of calculating population estimates is on the U.S. Census Bureau website.


Why the U.S. Census Does Not Ask about Religion

The U.S. Census Bureau has not asked questions about religion since the 1950s, but the federal government did gather some information about religion for about a century before that.

An essay commissioned by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life looks into the history of census questions about religious affiliation. It explores the debate over the propriety, merit and feasibility of including them on government surveys.


Racial Labeling in Survey Questions

Census takers aren’t the only ones who have struggled with racial labels. Over the past seven decades, America’s pollsters have used “colored,” “Negro,” “African American,” “Afro-American” and “black” in questions in national surveys, according to a review of survey questions archived by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut.

Here, for example, is a survey question asked in a May 1948 Gallup Poll:

It has been suggested that white and colored men serve together throughout the U.S. Armed Services—that is, live and work in the same units. Do you think this is a good idea or a poor idea?

Jeffrey Passel recently recounted the fascinating history of the Census Bureau’s efforts to label the races. As Census Director Robert Groves notes in his blog, this year the bureau will allow people to choose from 15 categories for race, including “black, African American, or Negro.”

The history of racial labeling in public opinion polls is briefly but vividly recounted by Lee Sigelman and Steven A. Tuch of George Washington University and Jack K. Martin of Indiana University in their article “What’s In a Name? Preferences for ‘Black’ Versus ‘African American’ among Americans of African Descent” in the  Fall 2005 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly. Read more