A C.E.O.’s Plea: Don’t Mess With the Census

American businesses rely on data from the census. Please don’t ruin it by adding a citizenship question.

By David Kenny

 

 

A coalition of more than 30 states, cities and counties, led by New York State, recently won a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York challenging a decision by the Commerce Department to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Department of Commerce appealed, and the case is scheduled to be argued at the Supreme Court on April 23.

The plaintiffs argued that participation in the census will be depressed by the addition of the new question, causing a significant undercount. If the government is successful in adding the citizenship question, the census will yield flawed data. This has significant consequences for American businesses, which rely heavily on census data and on the accurate reporting of consumer behavior to make their most critical business decisions.

A citizenship question will pollute a data set that is foundational for businesses all over the country. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that the census serves as a “linchpin of the federal statistical system by collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country.” Presidents from both political parties have recognized that the private sector, like the government, uses the wealth of information generated by the census to make critical business decisions.

My company, Nielsen, believes that American businesses’ reliance on this data cannot be overstated. As soon as the decennial census data is available, for example, we revise our ranking of the top media markets in the United States, by population. This “designated market area” list is always eagerly anticipated by our clients, and it has a direct impact on how advertisers spend their money.

Among others who agree with us are the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Advertising Research Foundation and Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The advertising industry and many other businesses depend on census data to make strategic and operations decisions, as they plan what to make, who to make it for, where to market it, where to sell it and how to adapt to the nation’s changing demographics. Banks and financial institutions, for example, use census information to create financial products for certain segments of the population. Utility companies use it to decide on the location of cell towers and new power lines. Health care companies also need an intimate understanding of the demographic makeup of different markets when they consider whether to open or close a hospital or an urgent care facility. Retailers, manufacturers and businesses of all types need accurate population data to decide where to locate manufacturing plants, distribution centers, or brick-and-mortar stores.

The economic impact of these decisions is enormous. Millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars — not to mention thousands of jobs — are at stake, so it is crucial that they be based on the highest quality data.

In the era of big data, an accurate census is more critical than ever. We know that big data sets have inherent structural biases, and those biases require calibration to a “truth set,” which in almost all cases is benchmarked to the census. Even a small error in the census can be amplified over and over again as the data is used in new and ever evolving ways. The last thing that business needs is for the next 10 years of data to be built on a faulty foundation.

This truth set is more critical now than it has ever been before, as business reflects a changing America. In 2044, white Americans will be a minority. We know that because prior decennial census data has told us so. At that time, Hispanics will constitute 25 percent of the population; African-Americans, 12.7 percent; Asians, 7.9 percent; and multiracial people, 3.7 percent. American businesses are already adapting to this evolving customer base, but they require the best possible data to do so.

My company and our peers in the advertising industry have, collectively, more than 100 years of experience with data, and we believe that including this question will result in an inaccurate census that will lead to flawed business decisions. You can count on it.

David Kenny is the chief executive of Nielsen.

Photo CreditBrian Snyder/Reuters

Where are all the multiracial people? Part 2

The United States Census Bureau put out a 165-page report today called “2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) Focus Group Final Report.” Basically, it’s about people who don’t want to fill out their census forms. The main reasons found were privacy concerns, apathy, fear of repercussions, and lack of time. The report is full of the focus groups they studied, including African American, Native American, Hispanic, Chinese, middle-eastern, rural, and on and on. However, it appears that the one group not included is the “two or more races” group—the biracial and multiracial people. It would appear that either the multiracial community is just fine with filling out their census forms or they just don’t exist to the federal government. You decide.

Read the full report here: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/planning-management/final-analysis/2020-report-cbams-focus-group.html?utm_campaign=20190124msc20s1ccnwsnl&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

 

 

Multiracial Numbers Increase

The U.S. population is getting older and more racially diverse, according to new estimates from the Census Bureau. The findings come out as a separate analysis finds that for the first time, white deaths exceeded births in a majority of states.

White people remain the majority in the U.S. — but in new data from the Census Bureau, non-Hispanic whites were the only group that didn’t grow from 2016 to 2017. Whites declined by .02 percent to a total of around 198 million people.

Among other racial groups, Asians were found to be growing at the fastest pace, 3.1 percent — and numbered 22.2 million in 2017.

The second-fastest-growing group: people who identify as two or more races. That group rose by 2.9 percent in 2017.

The Two or More Races Population

  • Those who identify as two or more races made up the second-fastest growing race group (2.9 percent) in the nation. Their growth is due primarily to natural increase.
  • The two or more races group had the youngest median age of any other race group at 20.4 years.
  • California had the largest two or more races population (1.5 million) and Hawaii had the highest proportion (23.8 percent).

Census will ask for Citizenship

Note: Project RACE is NOT in favor of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census!

Despite Concerns, Census Will Ask Respondents if They Are U.S. Citizens

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the decision to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census forms, citing the need to measure the portion of the population eligible to vote. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The 2020 census will ask respondents whether they are United States citizens, the Commerce Department announced Monday night, agreeing to a Trump administration request with highly charged political and social implications that many officials feared would result in a substantial undercount.

In a statement released Monday, the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had “determined that reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire is necessary to provide complete and accurate census block level data,” allowing the department to accurately measure the portion of the population eligible to vote.

But his decision immediately invited a legal challenge: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, plans to sue the Trump administration over the decision, a spokeswoman for Mr. Becerra said late Monday.

Critics of the change and experts in the Census Bureau itself have said that, amid a fiery immigration debate, the inclusion of a citizenship question could prompt immigrants who are in the country illegally not to respond. That would result in a severe undercount of the population — and, in turn, faulty data for government agencies and outside groups that rely on the census. The effects would also bleed into the redistricting of the House and state legislatures in the next decade.

Photo

A census form from 2010, which did not ask about citizenship status. Credit Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Justice Department had requested the change in December, arguing that asking participants about their citizenship status in the decennial census would help enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which aims to prevent voting rights violations.

“The Justice Department is committed to free and fair elections for all Americans, and has sought reinstatement of the citizenship question on the census to fulfill that commitment,” a Justice Department spokesman, Devin M. O’Malley, told The New York Times in February.

In a memorandum explaining his decision, Mr. Ross wrote that he had considered opponents’ arguments about the potential to discourage responses.

“I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” he wrote.

The decennial census generally included a citizenship inquiry for more than 100 years through 1950, according to the Commerce Department. And other, smaller population surveys, such as the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, continue to ask respondents about it.

“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” said Mr. Becerra. “What the Trump administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”

Others argued that an undercount in regions with high immigrant populations would lead not only to unreliable data but also to unfair redistricting, to the benefit of Republicans.

“Adding this question will result in a bad census — deeply flawed population data that will skew public and private sector decisions to ensure equal representation, allocate government resources and anticipate economic growth opportunities — for the next 10 years,” Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, said in a statement Monday night. “The stakes are too high to allow this. We urge Congress to overturn this error in judgment.”

The announcement of the citizenship question comes at a troublesome time for the Census Bureau: Its top two positions have interim occupants, and it has been forced to skip two of its three trial runs for the 2020 census because of funding shortfalls. If response rates for the census are low, critics worry that the bureau may be unable to adjust the data or deploy enough census takers to low-response communities.

The bureau is required to submit a final list of the 2020 census questions to Congress by the end of March.

Census and Citizenship Question

California sues over Census citizenship question

(CNN) — Progressives, states and civil rights advocates are preparing a flurry of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the next census, saying the move will penalize immigrants and threaten civil rights.

The late Monday move from the Commerce Department, which it said came in response a request by the Justice Department, would restore a question about citizenship that has not appeared on the census since the 1950s. The administration said the data was necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The state of California immediately challenged the plan in federal court.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla trashed the move as anti-immigrant.

“The citizenship question is the latest attempt by President Trump to stoke the fires of anti-immigrant hostility,” Padilla said in a statement. “Now, in one fell swoop, the US Commerce Department has ignored its own protocols and years of preparation in a concerted effort to suppress a fair and accurate census count from our diverse communities. The administration’s claim that it is simply seeking to protect voting rights is not only laughable, but contemptible.”

Former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder also blasted the move and said his organization, which focuses on voting enfranchisement and redistricting, would also pursue litigation against what he called an “irresponsible decision.”

Holder said contrary to the rationale presented by the Justice Department, he and other modern-era attorneys general were “perfectly” able to handle those legal matters without such a question on the Census.

“The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement. “Make no mistake — this decision is motivated purely by politics. In deciding to add this question without even testing its effects, the administration is departing from decades of census policy and ignoring the warnings of census experts.”

Critics of the move say that including such a question on a government survey will scare non-citizens and vulnerable immigrant communities into under-reporting. By undercounting these populations, they argue, there will be a major impact that follows on voting and federal funds.

Because the once-a-decade census is used to determine congressional and political districts and to dole out federal resources, an undercount in heavily immigrant areas could substantially impact certain states and major cities and potentially their representation at the federal level.

The question has not been on the full census since the 1950s, but does appear on the yearly American Community Survey administered by the Census Bureau to give a fuller picture of life in America and the population.

The Commerce Department said the decision came after a “thorough review” of the request from the Justice Department. The priority, Commerce said, was “obtaining complete and accurate data.”

“Having citizenship data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the VRA, and Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” the statement said.

Becerra and his state have been central to virtually every legal challenge of the Trump administration on issues ranging from immigration, to the environment, to health care. The Justice Department has also sued California over its so-called sanctuary policies to protect immigrants.

More challenges could soon follow.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a nonprofit that works on issues of justice and civil rights, said the question had no place in the Census.

“Our Constitution requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter her or his citizenship status. The administration’s decision to add a citizenship question is at best a dramatic misstep, and at worst a politically-motivated move that will undermine a fair and accurate census,” Weiser said. “This question is a dangerous move that could lead to a serious skewing of the final census results, which would have a deleterious effect on our system of representative democracy. We urge the administration to reconsider.”

Credit: CNN

BREAKING NEWS!

BREAKING NEWS!

January 26, 2018

 

Project RACE received an email from the Census Bureau today with the subject: UPDATE ON 2020 CENSUS QUESTIONS ON RACE AND ETHNICITY. The Office of Management and Budget was supposed to issue their guidelines for the 2020 Census prior to 2018 and they did not. A variety of changes were proposed. Therefore, the bureau will utilize the following for the 2018 Census Test in Providence County, Rhode Island and most likely follow through with them on the 2020 Census:

 

  • A separate category for ethnicity and race will remain the same. A combined format will not be utilized. The two-question format remains.
  • Multiple Hispanic ethnicities such as Mexican and Puerto Rican will be collected with a write-in area.
  • Examples of races will be expanded for the White, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native racial categories.
  • The term “Negro” will be removed.
  • A separate “Middle Eastern or North American” (MENA) category will not be utilized.
  • The OMB standards state that respondents should be offered the option of reporting more than one race.
  • The term “multiracial” will not be used.
  • When the two questions are collected separately, ethnicity should be collected first.
  • An individual’s responses to the race and ethnicity questions are based upon self-identification.

A sample of the Census questionnaire for the race and ethnicity questions can be viewed at this link:

 https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/program-management/memo-series/2020-memo-2018_02_questionnaire.pdf

Project RACE has worked as closely as possible with Census Bureau personnel on the race and ethnicity questions for each decennial census since the 1990 Census. We had hoped for inclusion of the respectful and appropriate terminology of “multiracial” on government forms. Instead, the multiracial population is referred to as “two or more races” people. Our needs were not served in this area and we are disappointed in the Census Bureau representatives from the top levels to staff personnel. We also remain completely unsatisfied with the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC) for their choosing to not have representation by the multiracial community. We call for a change in leadership on the NAC prior to the 2020 United States Census. Without better representation, we risk a tremendous undercount of the multiracial population in 2020 and beyond.

 

The Trump administration also announced today that they requested a question about citizenship status on the census, which is controversial. It is under legal review. The Census Bureau must decide by March 31 if it will include the question.

 

Project RACE has made amazing progress in our past 28 year history. We remain the only national organization advocating for multiracial people. We have gained the ability to choose more than one race on federal agency forms, state and local questionnaires, medical and business forms and much more. Project RACE was also responsible for ending “eyeballing” and third party identification with vitally important self-identification and positive self-reporting guidelines.

 

We have been very vocal in Washington in spite of efforts to minimize the multiracial community. Project RACE has also weighed in on several other issues such as a combined format and a MENA category for Middle Eastern and North African people. We remain committed to helping other communities receive fair treatment in advocating for their particular racial and ethnic identities. We are hopeful that future administrations will show sensitivity toward all racial and ethnic populations.

2020 Census

Yes, the census should be tracking race and ethnicity


(Gerald Martineau/for The Washington Post)
January 23

Timothy P. Johnson is director of the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago and president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Roger Tourangeau is former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and vice president and senior statistical fellow at Westat.

As the federal government prepares to conduct the 2020 Census, critics of the Census Bureau are pushing to make fundamental changes to how it collects its data. This month, Ward Connerly and Mike Gonzalez argued in The Post that the agency should remove questions in the census used to monitor race and ethnicity in our country.

This is a bad idea — based on incorrect information — that would do more harm than good to our country.

First, the Census Bureau’s race and ethnic classifications do not overlook the growing mixed-race population in the United States, as Connerly and Gonzalez suggested. In fact, the government specifically redesigned the 2000 decennial to let Americans more easily self-identify with multiple racial and ethnic groups. This information can be found in any of the countless statistical reports routinely issued by the Census Bureau describing the ever-changing population of our nation.

Questions regarding racial and ethnic self-identification have been included in each U.S. census dating back to the first in 1790. The specific wording of those questions and the level of specificity requested have, of course, been revised significantly over 220 years, reflecting our evolving understanding and respect for the cultural diversity of our nation.

Regardless, racial and ethnic self-identification is an essential component of the identities of millions of Americans. It is a valuable proxy indicator of their life experiences, and researchers have found that race and ethnicity are consistently associated with numerous measures of social well-being.

This information is also routinely used to expose politically motivated attempts to gerrymander congressional districts. This month’s court order to redraw North Carolina districts, which appear to have been designed in part to limit the representation of minority groups, is the most recent example illustrating the importance of objective, nonpartisan statistical information to ensure equal protection of the rights of all Americans. Removing this information from the decennial census would make it easier for us to ignore the social discrimination, health and economic disparities that persist in our nation.

Of course, social researchers recognize the imperfect measurement of race, ethnicity and most of the other social constructs that we study. There are many legitimate criticisms of the existing measures, and ongoing efforts in government, academia and private enterprise continue to develop more rigorous and useful measures. The Census Bureau has historically served as a leader in these efforts, typically making changes to census questions only after lengthy periods of careful research, experimentation and public comment. Questions regarding racial and ethnic self-identification will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the future. Those changes will hopefully be made in the name of public service and based on nonpartisan research.

The 2020 Census is already under considerable stress due to the cancellation of large-scale pretests and other essential development work. This is no time to impose untested changes to the census questionnaire. If we want to reconsider removing or adding questions, let’s do it when we have ample time to determine how doing so might best serve the public good.

Credit: The Washington Post

Citizenship Question on Census?

The DOJ Wants A Citizenship Question On The Census. That Could Blow Up The Whole Survey

Experts already concerned about census response rates say the query would cause even fewer people to respond.

The Department of Justice’s recent request to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has sparked concerns that such a move would lower response rates within immigrant communities.

An inaccurate Census would have severe consequences. The survey helps determine the allocation of nearly $700 billion each year in federal money, the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. House and how other electoral districts are drawn.

Even before ProPublica reported the Department of Justice request to the Census Bureau for the citizenship question, officials already faced significant challenges in getting people to respond. Among those is convincing people that the Census Bureau, which is overseen by the Commerce Department, won’t share data on individuals with other government agencies, said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

“What has happened in the past year or so, given the political environment, is that immigrants have become much more fearful” of contact with the federal government,” Vargas told HuffPost. “These are not just undocumented immigrants. They’re legal permanent residents, they’re U.S. citizens who have family members who are immigrants.”

Vargas, who also is a member of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations, said part of this fear arises from the policies and “new tone” of the Trump administration toward immigrants.

“So adding the citizenship question to [the census] is going to exponentially increase that hurdle to convince everybody that nothing’s going to happen to you if you answer this survey,” he said.

The Justice Department, in its Dec. 12 letter to the Census Bureau, said it needs data on non-citizens to better enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision prohibits the drawing of electoral maps in such a way to dilute the influence of minority votes. DOJ said the data on non-citizens would ensure districts are drawn in a way that fairly represents minority citizens.

Voting rights lawyers question that rationale, noting that the Census Bureau already asks people if they are citizens through the American Community Survey (ACS), which every year goes out to about 3 million households and extrapolates information about the U.S. population. The Justice Department said in its letter the ACS data was insufficient for voting rights enforcement and that the citizenship question should be included on the formal census, something that has not been done since 1950.

John Yang, the president and executive director of Asians Americans Advancing Justice, told HuffPost that asking about citizenship on the census would hinder the government from collecting accurate data.

“Putting it in the minds of the immigrant, they will have a certain paranoia,” he said. “Even if they are a citizen themselves, they will say, ‘Well, does this mean that they are asking me about my relatives that are here? How will this information be used against me.’ Just by its nature, because this is something that goes to the core of someone’s presence in the United States, they are going to be fearful.”

He added that among immigrants who are not English proficient, the citizenship question would “raise in them a whole host of questions of ‘I don’t want to lie, I don’t want to misstate anything, so it’s easiest just not to answer.’”

John Thompson, the former Census Bureau director who resigned in May, said he would not advise adding a question about citizenship because census officials hadn’t had a chance to measure how it would affect the response rate.

“From a census point of view … you don’t do things until you understand the effect,” he told HuffPost. Census officials don’t understand the effect (of adding the citizenship question. Without being able to measure it and trying to understand how this would affect the census and the census environment, for me, it would be hard to make that recommendation.”

Some lawmakers have previously tried to pass legislation requiring a citizenship question on the census. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) last year unsuccessfully sought to withhold funding for the Census Bureau unless it added such a question.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in December he wants the census to count citizens separately from non-citizens and then use only the count of citizens to determine the apportionment of congressional seats. The U.S. Constitution requires congressional seats to be apportioned based on a count of all “persons,” not just citizens.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, who worked as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee from 1987-1994, said that adding a question about citizenship would produce inaccuracies that would have far-ranging consequences.

Asking about citizenship “will depress response rates and just lead to a completely inaccurate census in many areas,” she said. “Those same data must be used for redistricting, as well as the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars a year for federal funds for vital services, as well as state funds for community purposes.”

Census researchers conducting tests in preparation for 2020 already have been raising concerns about the impact of harsh immigration rhetoric on response rates. In a September memo, the researchers said field representatives and supervisors were seeing an unprecedented amount of concern about the confidentiality of census data, particularly among immigrants. The officials observed test respondents “falsifying names, dates of birth, and other information on household rosters.” In focus groups conducted in several languages to test messages for the census, respondents expressed concern about opening their door for a census-taker out of fear they could be deported.

“Spanish-speakers brought up immigration raids, fear of government, and fear of deportation. Respondents talked about having received advice not to open the door if they fear a visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement” agents, the memo said.

The researchers called the responses “eye-opening” because many of the respondents had participated in previous census-related testing and not expressed similar nervousness or hesitation about sharing information.

Important Article!

How Racial Data Gets ‘Cleaned’ in the U.S. Census

The national survey offers more identity choices than ever—until those choices get scrubbed away.

Copies of the 2010 U.S. census
The 2010 United States Census allowed 63 possible responses for race. Ross D. Franklin / AP

At a doctor’s visit, on a college-admissions application, or even in a consumer-marketing survey, Americans are regularly asked to classify themselves by race. Some protest this request by “declining to answer,” as forms often allow. After all, racial categories are social constructs. They don’t connote biological or genetic difference.

While early racial data were gathered to feed an obsession with racial purity, and were even used to locate Japanese Americans for internment during World War II, over time the Census Bureau settled on bureaucracy to explain its work. And yet, a simple count of the population remains ideologically loaded. These data are not neutral or objective information about the population. Instead they reflect changing political priorities and techniques to grasp how the country’s population is seen—and how resources are made available to them

* * *

Shortly after the country’s founding, the U.S. government began collecting data on the racial and ethnic make-up of every person in each household. Every decennial ushers in some new language meant to enhance the accuracy and reliability of the census as a measurement of the entire national population. There’s symbolic power in being represented on the census—in being counted. But as the political scientist Melissa Nobles shows in her book Shades of Citizenship, these data also track compliance with civil-rights legislation, particularly voting districts. They are linked to federal resources, intensifying public agitation around the categories.

During the years between each census, researchers, activists, politicians, and interest groups lobby for the rewording of a label, the addition (or elimination) of a category, or the disaggregation of another, such as Asian or American Indian or Alaska Native. In 2000, for example, “Hispanic or Latino, or Spanish origins” was reclassified from racial to ethnic data. Respondents were also allowed to select multiple boxes to reflect multiracial heritage for the first time. Additional changes that affect how the racial makeup of the country is represented are underway, including the creation of a separate category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent (referred to as MENA).

Shifts in racial classifications raise questions about what exactly is being counted, how people interpret the same questions differently, and what to do about people’s changing perceptions of their racial background. In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that at least 9.8 million people reported a different racial or ethnic background than they did in 2000. When someone appears to “change” races, the resulting data is sometimes construed as erroneous.

The statistical accounting used to correct such errors is commonly referred to as “data cleaning” or data cleansing. This process involves identifying and then editing data already collected—through modification, enhancement, or deletion of responses—when it does not conform to some predetermined rules that standardize the data set. Ostensibly, the goal is to improve data quality by correcting measurement errors generated by people who complete the questionnaires or enter responses into the database. Data cleaning hopes to make a final data set similar to other, related ones, such as the other national censuses and the American Community Survey.

Errors in reporting and recording certainly do happen. But if racial data must be cleaned, then some data is dirty. And that dirtiness is undeniably political. Some responses are more likely to be diagnosed as dirty. Given the goal of creating information that is comparable from one national census to the next, the data most under suspect are those that correspond to the categories most in flux: people who checked more than one box, for example, or those who saw themselves as members of different racial or ethnic groups at different times.

While data cleansing can raise ethical questions about altering people’s responses, it offers a bureaucratic solution to a difficult position for the Census Bureau. The bureau is under public pressure to modify its data-collection methods, on the one hand. But, on the other, it is also expected to provide reliable data that is comparable over time and across other government agencies at the local, state, and national levels. The desire for comparability prompts some of the most intensive or imaginative cleaning.

By 2010, the two major changes from the previous censuses—the treatment of Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish ancestry as an ethnicity and the ability to check multiple racial categories—had yielded 63 possible responses for race: the original six categories (white; black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; some other race), plus an additional 57 possible combinations of these responses. Given the new information, identifying one group and distinguishing it from another became difficult. This led to the creation of new categories, established after data collection, such as “black, not Hispanic,” or “white, Hispanic.” For the most part, people who selected more than one race were recoded as “two or more races,” regardless of the combination. However, because no actual multiracial category is offered, the official racial categories are still preserved in the record. That makes them traceable later, by cleaning individuals’ responses retroactively.

In 2010, the “some other race” category proved the dirtiest. This selection included a write-in box where respondents were expected to provide the name of the race to which they felt they belonged. The vast majority of the more than 19 million people (6.2 percent of respondents) who made this selection also identified themselves as having “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish” origins for the ethnicity question asked prior to their race. In its document 2010 Census Redistricting Data, the Bureau states that it used “automated” and “expert” coding to recode write-in responses for compliance with the master files (or predetermined rules) of the database or system. For example, the document states that someone describing themselves as “Haitian” and “Moroccan” was recoded to “black” and “white.” This “some other race” also includes people who preferred to write in responses like “multiracial” in lieu of ticking multiple boxes.

Even with a shrinking budget and new leadership, the bureau’s search for tidier data continues. When interviewed shortly after her retirement in January, the former U.S. chief statistician Katherine Wallman acknowledged that politics were most likely behind recent budget cuts. Irrespective of the latest political jockeying, the bureau has been discussing ways to cut costs without compromising data quality for years. As a result, the 2020 census will test an online response option, and use administrative records such as federal tax returns and postal-service files to estimate individual characteristics like sex and race when information is not self-reported.

While these new measures might reduce costs, civil-rights groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are concerned that they will continue to undercount or otherwise misrepresent vulnerable populations and communities of color whose members are less likely to have reliable internet access. That might make them vulnerable to inaccurate identification in administrative records.

* * *

The Census Bureau didn’t respond to a request for comment or clarification about its perception of dirty data. Nevertheless, the bureau likely finds itself in a cultural minefield, as it becomes a site where debates unfold about which individuals and groups are rendered invisible, as much as how finite public resources get allocated. The ongoing dispute over whether future censuses should or will include a question about sexual orientation or gender identity belie the simplicity of the current sex question, which only asks respondents if they are male or female. With more public pressure and social change, that data might also become disaggregated one day, and then recoded into categories like “cisgender male” or “female, not transgender.”

Some people bristle at being asked to reduce the complexity of their self-perceptions into a singular choice. The “check-this-box” mentality of the census is at odds with the more fluid and ambiguous self-perceptions of the population: people originating from outside the country, for example, or those habituated to customizable digital profiles, like those on Facebook, which appear to revel in the uncertainty of multitudinous identity. If anything, these digital tools have helped accelerate citizens’ willingness to self-identify in categories broader than those provided by the government—and even to demand to be able to do so.

Even so, some of the choices haven’t changed. Since the first census in 1790, one category has remained stable, or at least been modified the least on the national census and other official government forms: “white.”

Source: The Atlantic

Save the Census

Save the Census

Photo

A census bureau worker in Houston in 2010. Credit Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

An administration uninterested in staffing federal agencies, at war with facts and eager to help Congress cut the budget is further endangering a cornerstone of American democracy: the duty to count all who live here.

Every decade since 1790, as required by the Constitution, the federal government has undertaken a painstaking census of its people, the accuracy and fairness of which serves the interests of both political parties and of every citizen. The decennial count is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and set the boundaries of congressional districts. It determines how tens of billions of dollars in federal aid are divvied up.

The Government Accountability Office already put the 2020 census on its list of high-risk projects early this year, due to uncertainty about its budget and technology, and Americans’ increasing distrust of government data collection.

Then, the Census Bureau’s director, John Thompson, who was expected to remain on the job until at least the end of the year, resigned in June. Mr. Trump has not named a permanent replacement. The agency’s deputy director, Nancy Potok, an experienced statistician, left in January, and she also has not been replaced.

Responses to mail-in questionnaires — still the chief data collection method for the census — and door-to-door interviews have been declining for years, a G.A.O. report said.

The bureau hopes to bolster its door-to-door “clipboard” force by automating the force’s work and introducing online reporting. But there’s not much money to test whether the approach actually works on the census: The bureau scrapped three field tests slated for this year, and two more for next year, including tests among rural people, who are traditionally one of the most seriously undercounted populations. There’s also less money to protect the online system from hacking of the kind that crashed Australia’s online count last year.

The census has always been vulnerable to political attack, and is especially so now. In 2009, Tea Party conservatives in the House tried unsuccessfully to kill off the bureau’s annual American Community Survey, a continuing tracking of respondents’ occupations, education, homeownership and other topics, as a supposed intrusion on privacy. A joint study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution this year calls the survey data “indispensable” in helping local governments plan.

Mr. Trump poses an additional threat: His repeated efforts to discredit voter registration data and government employment numbers leave census officials worried that a random tweet from him could discourage more people from participating. Census professionals worry that the administration’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants could make them wary of providing information about themselves and where they live.

The census is the federal government’s chief source of data about the American people and economy, a sweeping endeavor. “If you don’t do the investment at the front end, you can’t fix it later,” says Max Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan advocate for a more effective federal government.

The census begins on April 1, 2020, and it must be completed in the summer for congressional reapportionment and redistricting to take place. Any failure would be immediately apparent — and it would tar Republicans at the height of the 2020 primary campaign season. Perhaps that reality will help inspire congressional leaders to support an accurate count, demonstrating to Americans that, even in the age of Trump, facts matter.