Groves Speaks At Princeton
Here’s what the Daily Princetonian had to say:
Census head speaks about methodology
Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, discusses new marketing techniques employed by the Census Bureau during a Monday lecture in Robertson Hall.
“He made a pretty good case that the marketing budget cuts costs,” Atul Sood said. “He was a really humorous speaker — far more funny than you would expect a census guy to be.”
Americans living in neighborhoods with poor census return rates had better watch out. Armed with signs, bullhorns and the sirens of local fire trucks, 250 of the Census Bureau’s local partner groups across the United States will begin the “March to the Mailbox” this Saturday. The march is an effort to urge residents of neighborhoods with low response rates to send in their forms, Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said in a lecture on Monday.“This is a little out of control,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s kind of unusual for a federal agency to do this.”
In his lecture, held in Robertson Hall, Groves discussed the goals and methodology of the 2010 Census. The census, which is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and some federal funding to states, involves printing 120 million questionnaire packages — a total of more than 400 million forms — and contacting 134 million households, Groves explained.
“The printing is such that we were right at the country’s capacity of printing,” he noted.
To reach as large a population as possible, the Census Bureau provides guides in 59 languages. It also conducts a massive marketing campaign on television and online that targets specific ethnic groups with low populations in the United States, such as the Hmong, Groves explained.
In recent years, the marketing process has been modernized.
“In 1990 and earlier, public service announcements were used, [and] as with most PSAs, they ran at three in the morning and no one saw them,” Groves said. But, he explained, the introduction of paid advertising in 2000 helped reverse a three-decade trend in declining census returns and saved the Census Bureau money by reducing the number of follow-up visits to homes.
The marketing effort is complemented by grassroots community-level involvement. The Census Bureau works with more than 22,000 partner organizations ranging from big-box stores such as Target and Walmart to small residential associations, Groves said.
Groves also noted the Census Bureau’s unprecedented effort to track performance in real time. The agency now tracks response rates as census forms are received and posts them online, allowing for advertising “interventions” in undercounted areas, like the Texas–Mexico border.
For all the census’s precision and organization, though, some problems are inevitable, Groves said.
“Every day, there’s a crisis somewhere, in some little place in the country,” he explained. “There will be [Census Bureau employees] who will be killed … There will be crimes committed by our staff. Everything will happen. You have a massive number of human beings trying to do something in a very short period of time.”
Groves also answered audience questions and said he had heard about the efforts of some University students to “queer the census.”
As part of that effort, letters appeared in students’ mailboxes last week urging them to identify their sexual orientation on a sticker, which could then be placed on census envelopes.
Though the census will report the numbers of same-sex couples in each state for the first time, it would not take reports of sexual orientation into account, Groves explained.
“Some in the [LGBT] community would like much more detailed measures that would reflect how they view themselves,” Groves said. “We’re not going to do it.”
He added that the wording and content of census questions has always been a source of controversy.
“The census is a contentious thing … and the disputes always involve how a particular group believes they’re being viewed by the census,” Groves said.
About 50 people — mainly faculty members, Wilson School students and town residents — attended the lecture. Their reactions to Groves’s lecture were generally positive.