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.

Transcript from Census Bureau Director’s latest press briefing…

Here’s the transcript and info from the latest press briefing. Here are some quotes of interest from Dr. Robert M. Groves:

1. On the second risk—the software systems, the new management team—I can say
honestly now that, although we had a very shaky start with these software systems, with
management interventions that were wisely done from this team, with enormous
dedication from a bunch of software engineers, we have successfully processed
47,000,000 forms through this software system that was designed to do that. It worked. It
wasn’t pretty, but it worked, and we have successfully completed that phase. We have a
few tail-end things that we’re finishing up.

2. The first operation is the biggest we’ll operate, and that’s called Coverage Follow-Up.
That actually began in mid-April, and it should finish up by August 13th. We’re calling on
about 7.5 million households. This is exploiting an innovation in the 2010 Census. If you
remember your form, there were two questions. One, is there someone at your house right
now who normally doesn’t live there? And then for every person you reported, we asked
the question, does this person sometimes live elsewhere? For the houses that checked one
of those boxes, we’re going to call back and make sure, make double sure, that we’ve
counted people once and only once. It is these complicated households where people are
coming and going and living there sometimes and not other times that pose real
challenges to get accurate counts, so we’re calling back on those.

3. The second operation, The Vacant/Delete Check, is about the same size, about 8,000,000
households, and what we’re doing there is going back on a set of households that we’ve
visited over the past few weeks where, when an enumerator went up and knocked on the
door, they determined, he or she determined, that that house was vacant on April 1. We
want to make sure that’s right. We’re going to double check that. We’re going to go back
to that house and redetermine [sic] whether that’s a correct designation for the house.
And then there are other houses on our list that went out over the past few weeks, and
when they went out to locate the house, they saw an empty lot, the house had been
destroyed, or they couldn’t find the house. It looked like our list was inappropriate. And
they marked that as a Delete. We’re going to go back out to those and make sure we got
that right before we finalize the operation.

4. The third operation is called Field Verification. It will began August 6th and it will go
through early September. This is really our last operation in terms of time. It’s pretty
small. We’re going to about 400,000 addresses. This is a check on a set of cases that is,
itself, the result of our efforts to count everyone. So, in March and April, if you didn’t get
a form, we said you could go to a local facility and pick up what we call a Be Counted
form. People did that. Not too many people, but people did it. And on that form we asked
you to write your address. We’ve examined every one of those forms already. And
sometimes, when we look at the address, we can’t match it to anything we have on our
list. On those kinds of cases, we’re going to go back out. We’re going out to that house
and we’re going to make sure we can find it. We can understand the address, we know
what block it’s in, and we can place it correctly in that block.

5. One another note that is useful to make. If you’re out there, or if your audience has the
following thoughts, “Gee, I don’t believe I got a mail questionnaire. I know I didn’t send
it back. I haven’t had anyone knock on my door. I’m afraid I’m not counted.” We still
have a facility for you, an 800 number. 866-872-6868. If you press the right buttons, I’m
told, rather slowly, you will get connected to an interviewer who will take your data right
on the phone. And that’s still open. That’ll be open until the end of July, roughly.

6. This was a short form only census. In 2000, the short-form had a response rate about ten
percentage points than the then long-form. We were counting on this. This was part of the
success. This is really the only way we achieved that 72% mail out response rate, I’m
pretty sure. Secondly, remember we had a bilingual form that was sent to areas that were
disproportionately Spanish-only speakers. We’ve analyzed those data. That thing worked
the way we wanted it to work. It increased the return rate in high prevalence Spanish-
speaking areas, we’re pretty sure. It’s a complicated analysis that will take longer to do,
but we’re pretty sure that thing worked the way we wanted it to.

7. We have a lot of junk on the list.” We deleted about 4.1 million cases in 2010. In 2000, we deleted
6,000,000. We like that contrast. Right? It looks the list is cleaner on the Delete side.

8. In the 2000 cycle, we were able to do reinterviews [sic] on 75% of the interviewers. 75% of the
enumerators got at least one case in their workload redone and checked. We’re essentially
at 100% now; we’re 99. something. That’s a good thing. That means we can say honestly
that a piece of every Census worker’s work was redone, independently, and checked to
see if we found any departures from training guidelines. We like that result.

9. This Vacant/Delete Check will really nail that number, but right now we stand, as of today, we found about 14.3 million vacant
homes versus 9.9 in the 2000 cycle.

10. We have about 47,000,000 households, we have about 565,000
interviewers, it looks like the number of cases that we judged as so severely mismatched
that it could’ve been a fabrication incident is less than a thousand out of those 565,000.
This is, by the way, below what we expected. And we feel good about that, because we
know we’ve sampled work from every interviewer, essentially.

11. Now, the second question is about prosecution. We are not in the prosecution game, as
you know. When there are severe, endemic, large amounts of fabrication, then that’s a
matter where we would call the Inspector General, if they weren’t aware of it already.
They do an independent investigation, and then they would make a recommendation to
the relevant U.S. attorney to prosecute or not prosecute.

12. It is feasible, as the caller noted, that we would count someone both at a soup kitchen one
day and then we would visit an encampment, or a group of people sleeping under an
overpass. When we visit them in the evening, it is very common that those people are
worried about their own safety. They protect themselves in various ways, to make sure
they’re not harmed physically. It is common that when we visit those outdoor locations,
that we can’t get the names and age and race of each individual. They say essentially,
“We don’t want to talk to you.” As a last resort, in those cases, we enumerate, we count,
Person 1, Person 2–  that’s about the best we can do.

13. ANDREA ISHAL: I’m Andrea Ishal,  …(inaudible) Reporters. I wanted to follow up on
one question that came before, and then ask one of my own. You had said that there were
1,000 cases–  was that 1,000 individuals out of 585,000, or was it a thousand cases out of
the 47,000,000.

GROVES: What I wanted to say—and we’re still doing this, so I don’t know the final
numbers—but we’re confident that it will be less than 1,000 people who, in
reinterviewing cases they did, we have judged falsified those cases. That’s 1,000 out of
565,000 roughly.

14. The number, just for talking purposes, in talking about the marginal cost
of calling on a case and doing an interview is about a $57 a household or about $25 a
person. And those are numbers that we’re still working with. We’ll refine those numbers
based on our experience as soon as we collect all the data.

15. JEFF COONER:  The second question was, you were talking about being under budget,
so I wanted to know what the budget was and what we actually spent.

GROVES:  Yea, yea. Well, again, we’re not sure on this. But we’re coming in at the
Non-Response Follow-Up stage at about 70%-75%  of the budget. We’re not through
with that yet, so we’re not able to report on that. But that’s a significant cost savings,
we’re sure. The why of those cost savings are important to note, too. Part of it is our
workload was lower than we were prepared to do. These are good things. We had less
cases than we were ready to call on; that we thought we’d have to call on. The second
thing that happened was, we’re now pretty sure, that the work of this labor force that we
engaged was just smoother. We got cases in faster than we thought. We think the
productivity was greater. I’ve noted several times that we are blessed.

16. SARA HASAID: Hi, Sara Hasaid from AFP. You mentioned that the number of cases in
which you had to appeal to a landlord or a building manager to get information was
higher this time around. Can you give me any sense of actually what those figures are and
why that might be?

GROVES: I can. And it’s roughly 21% or 22% of the 47,000,000 that we went on to
knock on the door. And if you look, it’s a bit of apples and oranges. But if you look at the
2000 rate, that was about 17%, so it’s a little higher. Did you have a second question?

[off mic]

There are a lot of different reasons. This tracks trends and surveys. For those of you who
know a little about surveys, you know it’s harder to get a hold of us than it used to be.
People are at home less frequently, for a lot of complicated reasons. These 47,000,000
households, by the way, are the households that chose not to return the mail
questionnaire. These are really busy people. And so that’s part of it. And there’s a
reluctance in that contrast between 17% and 22% that we don’t know the components of
yet. People who open the door, they’re at home, but they say, “I don’t want to do this.”
And we go back repeatedly, we send different enumerators, and as a last resort, then we’ll
ask a building manager or a neighbor.

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