My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Archive for February, 2010

Michelle Malkin Hearts Us..And Makes Some Valid Points

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Though we’re a staunchly non-partisan media outlet, yesterday we became a darling of the right, as Michelle Malkin sung our praises. Perhaps the best point in her article is that Christopher Guest’s “viral” video has fewer than 7,000 hits on YouTube, but maybe that will soon change with all of this (ahem, negative) exposure:

The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle

By Michelle Malkin  •  February 5, 2010 10:19 AM

My column looks at the bloated Census p.r. and education budget. GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson is asking questions. As well he should. History shows that the more the Census spends on advertising, the lower the response rate is. Best watchdog site for all the latest Census shenanigans: My Two Census.

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The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2010

If only the federal government were as responsible with our money as Pepsi is with theirs. The soda giant has been in the Super Bowl ad business for more than two decades. But this year, Pepsi determined it was economically unwise to pay $3 million for a 30-second spot. So, who’s foolish enough to pay for Super Bowl gold-plated airtime? You and me and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Census Bureau will squander $2.5 million on a half-minute Super Bowl ad starring D-list celebrity Ed Begley, Jr., plus two pre-game blurbs and 12-second “vignettes” featuring Super Bowl anchor James Brown. It’s a drop in the Census boondoggle bucket (otherwise known as the tax-subsidized National Democrat Future Voter Outreach Drive). The Obama White House has allocated a total of $340 million on an “unprecedented” promotional blitz for the 2010 Census. That’s on top of $1 billion in stimulus money siphoned off for increased Census “public outreach” and staffing. In all, the Census will triple its total budget from 2000 to $15 billion.

Ads pimping the Census have already appeared during the Golden Globe awards and will broadcast during the Daytona 500 and NCAA Final Four championships. Some $80 million will be poured into multi-lingual ads in 28 languages from Arabic to Yiddish. Racial and ethnic groups have been squabbling over their share of the pie.

The U.S. census is a decennial census mandated by our constitution. Should Americans know about it? Sure. Should the p.r. budget become a bottomless slush fund in recessionary times? Surely not.

Yet, no matter how you translate it, the Census commercials to date have been an Ishtar-style flop. Global ad agency Draftfcb, based in (Obama’s hometown) Chicago and New York, nabbed a $200 million, four-year contract to oversee the Census Bureau’s direct marketing, online, and offline general market media strategies. The agency hired comedian Christopher Guest to produce “viral” spots. One of the supposedly “humor-driven” videos produced by Guest and commissioned by Draftfcb was uploaded to YouTube a few weeks ago. It has racked up a measly 6,880 views.

“For a once-a-decade project involving every living American, that’s a pretty crummy return on investment,” jeered AdFreak.com’s David Griner. “The video seems to be hampered by the same problem that plagues all campaigns meant to ‘go viral.—i.e., it’s simply not that funny…[T]he joke is a chuckler at best, and dragged out to three minutes, that chuckle gets spread pretty thin.” According to independent Census watchdog Stephen Morse, the feds conducted a total of 115 focus groups in 37 markets across the country before settling on the dud of an ad.

That’s a hell of a lot of focus-grouping to get people to pay a little extra attention to government head-count questionnaires that will be coming straight to their mailboxes, anyway.

Taxpayers are also footing the bill for the Mother of all Government Junkets – a three-month, $15 million road trip by lucky-ducky Census Bureau flacks traveling in 13 buses and cargo vans with trailers. They’ll be partying in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and at parades across the country. In case you were wondering about the anticipated Census Road Show carbon footprint, it’s an estimated 223 metric tons.

But not to worry: The eco-racketeers of an Al Gore-endorsed carbon offset firm called “Carbonfund.org” have become official government “partners” with the Census to offset all the vehicle emissions – and surf off the free publicity to garner more shady business.

As if overpriced TV ads, online videos no one watches, and indulgent, cross-country caravans weren’t enough, the Census Bureau is also enlisting 56 million schoolchildren to pester their parents and act as junior government enumerators. Educrats are spending several billions more on math and social studies lessons peddling the Census. Overzealous Census partners such as the National Association of Latino Elected Officials have distributed recruitment propaganda urging constituents to participate because “Joseph and Mary participated in the Census.” Goodness knows what kind of fear-mongering curricula the kids are being served in the name of counting heads – and shaping the electoral landscape.

“When times are tough, you tighten your belts,” President Obana lectured us. “You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.” Coincidentally, the Census Road Tour junketeers just wrapped up a visit in Vegas. Next stop? You guessed it: The Super Bowl in Miami. Taxpayers should start crying foul.

USA Today: Glitches Hamper 2010 Count

Friday, February 5th, 2010

We’re really wondering who at the Census Bureau is responsible for the below problems…because he or she should be fired immediately…MyTwoCensus.com will soon be investigating who was responsible for this language foible….see the following report from USA Today:

By Haya El Nasser

The words dieu tra jumped out at Quyen Vuong as she perused the 2010 Vietnamese-language Census form online.

“It’s a very scary connotation in the sense that there is a crime and the government needs to investigate,” says Vuong, a member of two Census outreach committees in California‘s Santa Clara County and executive director of the International Children Assistance Network.

The words the Census Bureau used to refer to its upcoming population count evoke chilling memories for Vietnamese immigrants who escaped a Communist regime. Vuong alerted the Census Bureau, and Director Robert Groves told her that online Census materials were being changed and would use the more neutral thong ke (tally) to refer to the count. It’s too late, however, to edit preprinted forms.

Vuong says the government should launch a media campaign to acknowledge the mistake and apologize.

Despite an unprecedented $340 million promotion that includes $130 million for ads in 28 languages (including Tagalog, Yiddish, Khmer, and Urdu), user guides in 59 languages and the Census questionnaire itself in six — English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese — glitches and gripes surround the Census effort:

• The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund last week reported widespread problems in Asian communities, from mistranslations to insufficient staffing in local Census offices.

“We don’t want to be too critical, but no one had a chance to preview the language guides, the advertising campaign,” says Glenn Magpantay, director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF. Concerns over privacy and confidentiality continue, he says.

• The National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 200 black community newspapers, is angry that the Census Bureau is spending only $2.5 million on ads in black media.

“We think they’re about $10 million short,” says Danny Bakewell, chairman of the group. “They’re setting it up for us to have the greatest undercount in the history of America. If this happens, it will devastate our community for the next 10 years at least.”

The number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on Census counts every 10 years. The tally also helps to redraw political districts and determine the allocation of more than $400 billion a year in federal money to states and cities.

• Korean-American groups want to see more Census spending in their community. “We heard that there was so much money out there for Census outreach, but I don’t see a dollar,” says Young Sun Song, a community organizer for the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago.

• In Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund complains that the state has not formed a complete-count committee to encourage response to the 2010 Census forms that will land in mailboxes next month.

The Super Bowl Ad: The Census Bureau Responds To MyTwoCensus Questions

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

MyTwoCensus.com has received a fair share of e-mails from Americans who are all asking the same question: Why did the Census Bureau choose to purchase a multimillion dollar Super Bowl advertisement? Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner has responded to this and other related questions below:

Questions from Stephen Robert Morse, Founder/Editor of MyTwoCensus.com: Whose idea was it to air an ad for the Census Bureau during the Super Bowl? Who chose Christopher Guest as the director of the ad? Who chose which specific ad or ads will run? Which ad or ads will run? Were there ever focus groups to see how effective the ads were? If so, where and when did these focus groups take place? What were the results of these studies?

Answers from Stephen Buckner, Assistant Division Chief, Decennial Programs, Public Information Office:

The essential challenge for the Census is that because it happens only once
every ten years, many U.S. residents are unaware of when it happens (in
March) and how they participate (by mail).  Our own research in late 2009
showed less than 10% of Americans surveyed correctly answered that the 2010
Census occurred in March.  

The first goal of our promotion efforts is to
raise awareness of the when and how the Census works.  We have a very
limited window of opportunity to achieve our goals Jan – April, and
therefore need programming that delivers high ratings.   The 2000 Census
paid advertising campaign also had a Super Bowl ad for just this reason.

The Super Bowl is the top-rated and most highly anticipated television
event in the U.S.  An ad running once in the Super Bowl has the potential
to reach 45% adults over age 18.  For comparison, CSI which is one of the
top rated programs on television delivers a 6.6 rating with adults, which
is a fraction of the reach of the Super Bowl.   A 30 second spot on the
top-rated regularly scheduled show in America, American Idol costs $450,000
and has a 9.5 rating, or just 9.5% of adults are watching.   The Super Bowl
reaches 100 million viewers at a very efficient price compared to other
shows.

 The Super Bowl is rare, in that viewers are just as tuned in to see the
commercials as the program itself.  Commercials that air on the Super Bowl
have a multiplier effect.  Advertisers are mentioned in multiple news media
outlets and viewers will typically look to view them online almost
immediately after airing.  Therefore, airing once in the Super Bowl creates
significant buzz leading to additional viewing potential.

Our media buy with CBS consists of (1) 30 second ad in the 3rd Quarter.
CBS provided added value in the form of (2) more 30 second ads in the
pre-game show and an additional (2-3) 12-second vignettes featuring James
Brown delivering a message on behalf of the Census.  We believe the message
delivered by James Brown who is the host of the day, will carry great
weight with viewers.

We did not choose the Super Bowl itself for an ad, or at the expense of
some other programming.  We went where the audience was to be found, and
CBS put the Super Bowl into their proposal for all Census ad dollars, along
with the NCAA finals and other high profile programming.  NBC similarly
offered us special programming for advertising during the Olympics.

We did conduct focus groups and other research for all of our paid
advertising concepts in 2009, including the concept of a “Snap Shot of 300
million Americans” which became the ads being directed by Christopher
Guest.  They tested very positively.  We conducted a total of 115 focus
groups in 37 markets cities across the United States for all our
advertising, television, radio, print, digital and out door.

The first ad in the series is currently airing and will also air during the
Super Bowl pre-game. A new will air during the game, but if we told you
what it was all about, it would spoil all the suspense.  While we reply on
the professional expertise and advice of our expert advertising
contractors, the Census Bureau is responsible for these ads and their
placement.

Finally, Super Bowl advertisers see a significant lift in internet searches
which is a great opportunity for Census to drive traffic to 2010census.gov
to further educate viewers on the Census.

Census News Roundup…

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The story: FoxNews has claimed that Democrats in Ohio are may rig the 2010 Census.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: We urge readers to proceed with caution, as this article is filled with the kind of “Gotcha!” fluff that has made FoxNews so famous. However, FoxNews continues to serve an important role in keeping Democratic administrations on their toes…so we’ll watch this one for a bit.

The Story: Hatian immigrants moving permanently to Florida en masse could positively affect the Sunshine State’s headcount.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: Yup. This is likely. But how many grieving newly arrived Hatians make time for the 2010 Census as their first priority when upon landing in the US?

The Story:  Apparently, the Census Bureau is having trouble finding workers in West Texas.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: Even if West Texas has a low unemployment rate unlike the rest of the nation, there are still many unemployed and competent people out there. The Census Bureau recruiters in this area should be fired because clearly they are incapable of doing their jobs.

The Story: A 2010 Census meeting in Monroe, Louisiana draws sparse attendance.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: The Census Bureau did a great job getting the MEDIA and POLITICIANS to attend an event, but not the PEOPLE. Clearly there is a disconnect here. Will this be indicative of a low number of people returning their Census forms?

Dr. Robert Groves vs. PETA…a battle looming?

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Census Director Robert Groves’ blog on 2010.Census.Gov…for a second I thought I was reading a post from Sarah Palin:

Monday evening we had a feast of moose, caribou, and muktuk (whale skin and blubber) along with more traditional fare like turkey and dressing. The meal was followed with native dancing from villages surrounding Noorvik (some as far North as New Hope on the Northern coast). Next a band of electric and acoustic guitars, drums, and keyboard appeared, playing mainly country and western music. The musicians were the mayor, the president of the Noorvik native community, and the school principal among others. They started with an old Hank Williams tune, and played other favorites they had grown up with.

In response, Laura Lopez of PETA told MyTwoCensus, “If the Census Director wants to have fewer Americans to count, he’s headed in the right direction by feasting on a Noah’s Ark of animals. From turkey flesh to moose meat, all animal flesh is packed with saturated fat and cholesterol—so not only is meat a product of animal cruelty, it also makes people obese and unhealthy.”

San Francisco Public Press: Census methods could provide lift to hidden homeless

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The following article comes to us from the San Francisco Public Press, a worthy non-profit that is trying to revive the journalism industry in the City by the Bay (full article here):

By TJ Johnston

The 2010 Census could help address one of the thorniest problems in dealing with San Francisco’s long-standing homeless problem — getting an accurate head count.

The city’s homeless figures have ranged between about 6,500 and 8,600 people in the last decade, but the real number is anybody’s guess. The sketchy knowledge of who is living on the street has been a big impediment to perennial attempts to solve the crisis.

Temporary census workers will spend three days at the end of March interviewing homeless people at their usual gathering places, including shelters, soup kitchens, parks and highway underpasses. The census workers will ask questions similar to those asked of people who do not reply to questionnaires delivered to households.

The official number of homeless people in the city matters because it can potentially affect the number of representatives for state and federal legislative because they’re drawn based on population. It also impacts federal, state and city grants for social service programs for the homeless.

Part of the problem has been that for each count, the methodology changes, and so does number of workers and time dedicated to the count. These tallies have been conducted by the city and an array of private nonprofit service and advocacy groups, each with its own political agenda and definitions of homelessness.

Politicians and advocacy groups have also been known to use different numbers depending on the audience. And no one in the government is quite sure of the real number.

“Part of it has to do with conflicts between academic estimates of the homeless population and community and activist estimates,” said Chris Bettinger, who teaches sociology at San Francisco State University.

Bettinger said the Census Bureau, which has only been including homeless people in its counts since 1980, could not guarantee that this year’s numbers will be definitive, or even better than other methods. The advantages are that the counting of the homeless across the country will be somewhat standardized and conducted by paid staff, not volunteers.

Another fake 2010 Census form, this one a scam…

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Just last week, we reported that the  GOP has been distributing a flier with the word “census” on it that is not related to the 2010 Census but actually a political fundraising advertisement. It seems that Kansas City residents are dealing with a far more sinister form of mailer. The Kansas City Star reports the following:

By TONY RIZZO and JOE LAMBE

Law enforcement agencies Monday were warning the public — especially the deaf community and senior citizens — about two suspicious mailings seeking money and personal information.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

The FBI is warning senior citizens about an official-looking survey that seeks money and personal financial information.

Although not labeling it a scam, the bureau said the mailing is not connected to the U.S. census or any other federal agency, although it looks similar to a legitimate census document.

The mailing purports to be a “2010 Census of Senior Citizens” and asks recipients to answer survey questions and says the results will be shared with the president of the United States. Questions concern health care and other senior-related issues.

It solicits donations ranging from $15 to $25 so additional surveys can be sent to other senior citizens. It also asks for credit card information if people want to donate.

“It is not the official census, and the census would never ask to send money,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. “As always, we caution providing any personal and or financial information to unverified entities.”

Patton said the FBI doesn’t know of anyone in the Kansas City area having provided money, but it wants people to be aware.

“If you did not initiate the contact, be very cautious about providing any personally identifying information or financial information,” Patton said.

Also on Monday, Johnson County prosecutors warned that thieves are focusing on deaf persons in letters or an Internet scam.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

Freakonomics: Justin Wolfers says you can’t trust the 2010 Census

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

The following comes from Justin Wolfers, a professor at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, who writes for The New York Times’ Freakonomics blog and answers the age old question… “Can you trust the census?”:

No. At least that’s the conclusion of an important new paper (ungated versionhere) by Trent AlexanderMichael Davern and Betsey Stevenson, who find enormous errors in some critically important economic datasets.

Let’s start with the 2000 Decennial Census. Your responses to the Census were used for two purposes. First, the Census Bureau tallied up every response to produce its official population counts. And second, it produced a 1-in-20 sub-sample of these responses, which it made available for analysis by researchers. Just about every economist I know has used this Census sub-sample, as do a fair number of demographers, sociologists, political scientists, and private-sector market researchers.

The errors are documented in a stunningly straightforward manner. The authors compare the official census count (based on the tallying up of all Census forms) with their own calculations, based on the sub-sample released for researchers (the “public use micro sample,” available through IPUMS). If all is well, then the authors’ estimates should be very close to 100% of the official population count. But they aren’t:

Census ChartSource: Inaccurate Age and Sex Data in the Census PUMS Files: Evidence and Implications
Trent Alexander, Michael Davern and Betsey Stevenson

The two estimates are pretty similar for those younger than 65. But then things go haywire, with the alternative estimates disagreeing by as much as 15%. In fact, the microdata suggest that there are more very old men than very old women — I know some senior women who wish this were true! The Census Bureau has confirmed that the problem isn’t with the authors’ calculations. Rather, the problem is in the public-use microdata sample.

What’s the source of the problem? The Census Bureau purposely messes with the microdata a little, to protect the identity of each individual. For instance, if they recode a 37-year-old expat Aussie living in Philadelphia as a 36-year-old, then it’s harder for you to look me up in the microdata, which protects my privacy. In order to make sure the data still give accurate estimates, it is important that they also recode a 36-year-old with similar characteristics as being 37. This gives you the gist of some of their “disclosure avoidance procedures.” While it may all sound a bit odd, if these procedures are done properly, the data will yield accurate estimates, while also protecting my identity. So far, so good.

But the problem arose because of a programming error in how the Census Bureau ran these procedures. The right response is obvious: fix the programs, and publish corrected data. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau has refused to correct the data.

The problem also runs a bit deeper. If the mistake were just the one shown in the above graph, it would be easy to simply re-scale the estimates so that there are no longer too many, say, 85-year-old men — just weight them down a bit. But it turns out that the same coding error also messes up the correlation between age and employment, or age and marital status (and, the authors suspect, possibly other correlations as well). When you break several correlations like this, there’s no easy statistical fix.

Question to our readers…

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Do you think it is a good use of money for the Census Bureau to spend a few million $$ on a Super Bowl advertisement? (please comment below!)