Notes from Pew’s Census 2010 Workshop

The Pew Research Center’s Census 2010 workshop Jan. 21 featured two panels to help journalists and analysts prep for the decennial count of America and the data dump to follow. Two of my USA TODAY colleagues and I sat in. Paul Overberg, a fellow database editor, led one of the panels.

Pew staff recorded the sessions and is sharing some of the material on its Census site. Here are some of my notes for those who couldn’t make it:

‘Conducting Census 2010’
Presented with the Washington Statistical Society and D.C.-American Association of Public Opinion Research

Robert Groves,  director, U.S. Census Bureau
Constance Citro, director, Committee on National Statistics
Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer, Pew Research Center
Joseph Salvo, director, Population Division, NYC Dept. of City Planning
Scott Keeter, director of survey research, Pew Research Center

Groves led with a broad description of the planning and operational aspects of the count:

  • Forms will be delivered March 1 to April 6. Census day is April 1.
  • The form is one of the shortest — 10 questions. There is no long form; that’s been replaced by the American Community Survey.
  • Households will get an advance letter, a reminder card and a replacement questionnaire if they don’t return the first one.
  • For its communications campaign, the Census Bureau “identified levers that could be pulled” by assessing response data from prior counts. It also built a tract-level database and mapped out churches, businesses and other organizations it could enlist for support.
  • The first national Census ad debuted during the Golden Globes.
  • In summer 2009, Census workers with GPS units marked 98% of addresses.
  • The Census Bureau has prepared 120 million questionnaire packets. Groves said they “burned out” the country’s printing capacity.
  • 13 million questionnaires are in Spanish. Forms are available in six languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian — and there are guides in 59 languages.
  • The Bureau is doing daily research on the public’s awareness and attitudes toward the Census.
  • And, finally, two Muppets characters — Count von Count and Rosita — will assist with outreach to kids, which the Bureau recognizes as important to raising awareness in immigrant households.

Salvo discussed New York City’s efforts to make sure all its addresses are represented:

  • The Master Address File is the foundation of the Census.
  • Current updates are done through the U.S. Postal Service, field efforts in rural areas, discovery via other surveys and a full canvass.
  • New York City submitted 196,000 additions to the address list. The Census Bureau accepted 121,000, and the city submitted 36,000 for appeal.
  • To illustrate the difficulty in identifying households, Salvo showed photos of mailboxes in building foyers pasted with multiple names.

Citro had some pointed comments about Census glitches and offered suggestions for planning:

  • The bureau “had a harrowing 2008 after hand-held (GPS) problems blew up out of control.”
  • The Census coverage measurement program “will not do as good a job as it could because the independent interviewing is starting at a late date, which increases the likelihood of errors in recalling Census day residence.” Some background is here.
  • Planning now for Census 2020 is “crucial.”
  • She recommended ways to cut costs, including greater use of administrative records, getting a contractor now to design hand-helds, and use of Internet for responses.

Passel’s portion was titled “Will Success Spoil the Census Bureau?” and focused on the intersection of the decennial counts and the annual ACS:

  • Census 2000 was a success, with a very low undercount. Just 0.12% of the population was missed.
  • Whether Census can match or improve on that is a question.
  • He cautioned that the ACS needs to be regarded as “Census-like” data, not a complete count. Its population and race totals come from estimates, not counts.
  • He recommended that Census weight ACS 2010 data to Census 2010, not Census 2000, and delay releasing it if necessary to do that.

‘Covering Census 2010’
Presented with Investigative Reporters & Editors

Ron Nixon, projects reporter, The New York Times
Paul Overberg, database editor, USA TODAY
D’Vera Cohn, senior writer, Pew Research Center

Nixon began with suggestions on topics reporters might want to explore:

  • Cost: Census is spending $14.7 billion on the effort and in 2009 asked for $2.1 billion, he said.
  • Some dress rehearsals were canceled for budget reasons
  • Among the potential problem areas: foreclosed homes, fear over immigration status, continuing problems in rural areas in terms of identifying place names, scams, etc.
  • Some volunteer organizations say they’re being vetted closely by Census because of the “Acorn effect.”
  • Examine efforts of state and local governments.
  • Examine advertising spending on local radio, TV stations.

Overberg focused on “What’s Different and What’s Not” about Census 2010 vs. 2000:

  • Sampling: There’s no discussion this time of adjusting the count via sampling as happened in the run-up to Census 2000.
  • There’s lots of discussion on the attention being paid to media. The Bureau is identifying the trust points and institutions in each neighborhood, noting why various people are more likely to respond and how it can appeal to the issues they care about.
  • The form is short — one page per person and the shortest mail Census form since that started in 1970.
  • Precision: The bureau used GPS units to map addresses.
  • The recession: Big worry that foreclosures have doubled-up households and whether people will note that on questionnaires. Some may feel embarrassed that they’re living in their brother’s basement, for example.
  • Targeting: Census has greater ability to target people in terms of media and message.
  • Polyglot: Last time, the form was in one language. This time, it’s in six languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.
  • Power shifts: We can already predict which states will gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives. Iowa, Pennsylvania and New York will be among those losing a seat. Texas will gain three or four. California may not gain for the first time. In state houses, we may see upstate/downstate shifts in places such as New York and Virginia.

Cohn, Nixon and Overberg wrapped by noting sources for journalists:

Cohen said Pew or IRE would make the audio and PowerPoint presentations available at some point. Audio of Robert Groves’ presentation is already posted on Pew’s site.

One response to “Notes from Pew’s Census 2010 Workshop”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Schaver, Steve Doig and Michelle Minkoff, Anthony DeBarros. Anthony DeBarros said: For #census hounds, I wrote up my notes from this week's Pew Research Center Census workshop: […]

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