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.

Pew Research Center: 22% of NRFU based on proxy interviews is bad news for accuracy

Despite yesterday’s claims by Robert M. Groves that the 2010 Census is accurate and trustworthy, the fact that 22% of NRFU interviews were done by proxies is scary. D’Vera Cohn writes the following:

As the 2010 Census information-gathering phase winds down and the Census Bureau turns to quality-checking and data-processing, Director Robert Groves offered some statistics at a recent operational briefing to assess how the national count has gone thus far. One indicator, the quality of the address list, appears to have improved since the 2000 Census. Another, the share of proxy interviews, has worsened.

The foundation of a good census is having a complete list of addresses because Americans are counted at their homes or the other places they are living. The quality of the address list is important in aiding census-takers who head out on follow-up visits to people who did not return their mailed-out questionnaires.

During the recent non-response follow-up operation, Groves said, census-takers found fewer non-existent addresses on their rounds in 2010 than their counterparts had in 2000. In 2000, 6 million non-existent addresses were deleted from the list because census-takers could not find them. In 2010, 4.1 million were deleted. During follow-up visits, census-takers also are supposed to look for addresses that are not on the official list, so they can be added. In 2010, Groves said, “we had fewer adds proportionately” compared with 2000, although he said this is not as much of a “hard quality indicator” because it could mean that census-takers did not follow procedures for including new addresses.

On another quality measure, Groves said census-takers who were trying to collect information at addresses from which census forms were not received had to rely more heavily on neighbors and building managers than was the case during the 2000 Census. In 2000, about 17% of follow-up interviews were from proxies, not from the householders themselves, compared with 22% in 2010. This is of concern because proxy data traditionally has been less accurate than information that people provide about themselves. Groves said “this fits the expectation we had with regard to the cooperation of the American public.” Some people were never home during repeated visits by census-takers; others refused to provide information about themselves.

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20 Responses to “Pew Research Center: 22% of NRFU based on proxy interviews is bad news for accuracy”

  1. You forgot the rest Says:

    “Groves said “this fits the expectation we had with regard to the cooperation of the American public.” Some people were never home during repeated visits by census-takers; others refused to provide information about themselves.”

  2. Samantha Jackson Says:

    From the third paragraph:

    “During follow-up visits, census-takers also are supposed to look for addresses that are not on the official list, so they can be added. In 2010″

    This is not true. NRFU enumerators were specifically trained NOT to go looking for addresses to add. However, if an enumerator learned of an address during their work, they were to add the address and complete a blank EQ.

  3. Gail Says:

    We were never instructed to add addresses that were not on the official list. This would have been very easy to do. We had all the addresses in a binder that we were working from but were told only to enumerate the ones that had a eq attached with the binder.

  4. Bobby J Says:

    I’m afraid I don’t understand this quality control follow-up. I sent in my census form. Now for the past week I’ve had 3 different census takers show up at my door and go around to my neighbor’s doors trying to “confirm” the information I sent in. I told all of them I sent in the info and if they want to know what I put on the form they need to look at the form I sent in. I made sure it was correct before I sent it in. If they didn’t get the form then they need to contact the nearest Postal Inspector’s office. Anything else is their problem not mine and the law says I have to send in the form, not that I have to participate in ongoing quality control measures. The last thing I’m going to do is repeat the information I gave to some stranger who probably bought their bag and ID off ebay.


    22% PROXY USE that is not BAD! Don’t forget these are the folks who “did not” return back a mailed Census 2010 form. A ton of people no longer trust the government. Having participated in Census 2010 as an enumerator if a person refused to give information we were told to go out and try again and again. It is like the Lorrie Morgan song “What part of NO don’t you understand?” Unfortunately though a lot of crew leaders thought for some reason that proxies were lying about their neighbors and wanted to have information re-verified again……Crazy….

  6. SC Headless Chicken Says:

    As a Crew Leader in NRFU and then an Enumerator in NRFU, in South Carolina, we have been pressured by the area manager to finish too quickly. Rather than concentrate on accuracy and completely following all instructions there has been an emphasis on finishing quickly. This caused many enumerators in NRFU to immediately find a proxy and turn in EQ with back dated visits. This was the instructions given to Crew Leaders through our FOS. Many enumerators quit working for Census rather than falsify information, putting more workload to those that stayed. I feel that this should be investigated by national, and any bonus payed be taken back. This is very unsettling to me and I don’t know what to do about it.

  7. anonymous Says:

    There are neighbors lying or exaggerating information about their neighbors. I’ve re-interviewed and quality checked such households. The actual person who lives in the house is always surprised what information was disclosed by a neighbor or other proxy – age, number of people in the household, race.

  8. Still counting.. Says:

    I think a lot of this also was because of the high amount of vacant properties we encountered. If it’s vacant then your only option was a proxy. That could easily explain for the 5 percent point difference.

  9. Anonymous_in_FL Says:

    Does the 22% figure include vacancies? I’d say that 22% isn’t too bad considering the number of vacant homes, seasonal/vacation homes, and empty apartments. There’s also a lot more foreclosures and empty housing lots than in 2000, which may explain the big difference.

  10. Cluelessin3242 Says:

    Since the operation isn’t really complete, I’d say that 22% figure has room to grow… and will. It’s important to remember that the proxy rate DOES include vacancies, because there’s no other way of collecting data on a vacant residence other than speaking to a neighbor/real estate agent. I suppose it was just a bonus that so many proxies where just a pissed-off as household members and the cruelest irony is that some of these got selected for RI. So if they weren’t pissed the first time the Census contacted them, they certainly worked themselves up to a frenzy by the second or third time proxies where contacted to “verify information”.

  11. CC Sleep Says:

    To anonymous: How would ‘the actual person who lives in the house’ even know about the information given by neighbors since everything is supposed to be confidential. Why would you tell a respondent that you interview neighbors?

  12. Embarressed Says:

    Helllloooooo, as I said a bazillion, trillion times before… Just mail in the friggin census form in the first place, for Pete’s sake.

  13. Peachtree FOS Says:

    Just to clarify: The “proxy rate” is the percentage of EQs with a status of “occupied” that were enumerated using a proxy. Vacants and deletes don’t figure in. However, an address that was occupied on April 1 and is now vacant (or occupied by an in-mover) MUST be enumerated using a proxy; in an area with high mobility, lots of foreclosures, etc., that means a lot of proxy cases, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.

  14. Dave Says:

    Embarrassed – Re: “Just mail in the friggin census form in the first place,”

    In theory, that should work. In practice, not so much.
    Many people I interviewed had returned their questionnaires.
    My nextdoor neighbor received and returned four of them, all before April 1, and *still* got pestered during NRFU.

  15. MailMoose Says:

    @Peachtree – Thanks for the clarification. That helps me put a little more perspective on the situation. No doubt, Stephen will need to follow up some more to see if this is really a scary situation or if it is just misunderstood.

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  17. SNARFU Says:

    The stronger anti-government sentiment of 2010 than 2000 and the higher foreclosure/vacancy rate with the bad economy easily account for the higher proxy rate this time.

    If in-movers after Census Fool’s Day are interviewed at their new address, then a blank EQ _should_ be completed for their old address. However, given the caliber of some of the work that I’ve been following up on in VDC, it’s certainly not a given that this will happen. A vacant living quarter usually results in a proxy respondent, but with out-movers the resourceful enumerator can sit next to a keyboard and drum their fingers on it while they think about it and maybe a way to reach the out-mover will come to them. Of course, good enumerators will never ever use the internet because it is forbidden by the wise masters of The Bureau.

  18. Shirley Says:

    During VDC we were instructed not to ask whether the respondent(in-mover) filled out a census form at their previous address. IF the respondent told us they didn’t fill out a census form, we were given a phone number for them to call and do an interview by phone.

  19. Anne Says:

    Using proxies is more inaccurate than you think. We had an apartment manager (used as proxy) tell us that she could only tell us the number of people who signed the lease – so if extra people or children lived there, they weren’t counted. I am certain that many apartment managers don’t keep records on the children, so the count is inaccurate when using this common proxy.

  20. Dan Says:

    I would like to point out two things:

    1. Peachtree FOS is incorrect about proxies. A proxy is anyone you interview about a housing unit who did not live there April 1 and does not live there currently. All cases involve interviews to be complete. This means that vacant HUs (whose status can only be ascertained by an interview) would be considered proxy interviews if they meet the above criteria.

    2. The housing crisis left many homes vacant, which would lead to the current high rate of proxy interviews. Actually, considering the severity of our mini depression, I’m surprised the rate of proxy interviews isn’t 30% higher.