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 July, 2010

Census Director Groves is king of the world (of advertising)

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Dr. Robert Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, delivers the opening salvo at The Advertising Research Foundation AM5.0 – AUDIENCE MEASUREMENT EARTHQUAKE. There is no singular event with greater influence on the next ten years of audience measurement and marketing than the 2010 Census. Groves presents the ultimate “insider” preview of the much-anticipated 2010 Census report to be released next year.

MyTwoCensus.com hopes to learn how much $ Dr. Groves raked in for this keynote address…

Stay tuned for Dr. Groves’ exit from the federal government followed by his immediate decision to join a Fortune 500 company as the director of Market Research…

The battle over Congressional redistricting has just begun…

Monday, July 19th, 2010

A July 16th editorial in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the battle over congressional redistricting. The impact that 2010 Census data has on redistricting could be especially disturbing in light of recent concerns over the accuracy of this data:

All eyes are on the US House in this fall’s election, but that’s not the only place where a political earthquake might shake up power.

A mad scramble is also on to influence elections for state legislatures, as well as governors. National political bigwigs and big dollars – record amounts, actually – are focused on these local races.

The reason? This is a census year, and it is these newly elected officials who will use the new population numbers to redraw the boundaries of voter districts. Those districts will then set the contours of power and policy for the next decade.

Republicans see the opportunity for a long-lasting comeback in Washington if they can tip enough statehouses their way, and thus come up with voter districts likely to elect Republicans to Congress again and again. Likewise, Democrats are working hard to defend their mapping turf.

There would be nothing wrong with the mad scramble were it not for the fact that it’s scrambling American democracy. Many state legislatures and governors have gotten increasingly caught up in sophisticated “gerrymandering” of voter districts – shaping “safe” districts according to computer programs that reliably return incumbents to power.

Legislators are selecting their voters, instead of voters selecting their lawmakers.

The US Constitution requires redistricting after every census in order to make districts roughly equal in population, guaranteeing equal representation across the land. It leaves the method up to the states, though, and oh, the self-serving methods that many state politicians have chosen.

The party in power uses technology to account not only for population, but also voter registration data, voting patterns, and the addresses of incumbent lawmakers (in some cases, maps have been refigured so that an incumbent of the opposing party is drawn right out of his or her home district).

Thus are born districts that are no longer competitive, that don’t foster the free exchange of ideas, that hatch more extreme candidates who play to their home base, and that lead to hardened, immovable positions in elected bodies.

Concern Growing in Canada Over Recent Census Decision

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

This article is worth reading because it does an excellent job of discussing the wide reaching impact of Census data (even if it is Canadian Census data):

The census can look dull or irrelevant to the average citizen, a twice-a-decade event that only policy wonks, academics and journalists really care about.

But like the foundation of a building, census data are largely invisible but crucially important, affecting the lives of any citizen who has a child, drives a car, goes to school, moves here from another country, retires, works — or loses their job — shops, gets sick, wants to live in a safe neighbourhood, needs a helping hand from a charity or wants to know the money they donate will be put to good use.

“It really does touch your life, but not until you need it or you see it do you realize it,” says Doug Norris, director general of social and demographic statistics at Statistics Canada until 2005 and now chief demographer and senior vice-president with Environics Analytics.

Since the Conservatives announced three weeks ago they’re scrapping Canada’s long-form census in 2011 and replacing it with a voluntary survey — a move they say was prompted by privacy complaints — opposition has been mounting steadily. The short-form census remains mandatory. An array of experts and organizations have panned the decision, insisting it will destroy the statistical backbone of municipalities, social programs, community organizations and private businesses that touch nearly every aspect of the lives of ordinary Canadians……

Municipalities use information gleaned from long-form questions on how people get to work and where they work to plan bridges, roads and public transportation projects and budgets, says Derek Cook, research social planner with the City of Calgary.

“We may never again get neighbourhood level statistical data and what the hell are we going to do if we don’t have neighbourhood data? How are we going to plan?” he says. “It’s like taking a carpenter’s hammer away and asking him to go continue to build the house.”

Like Cook, Brent Toderian, director of city planning for Vancouver, said census data so fundamentally underlie everything a city plans for its residents that he struggles to pinpoint a single instance.

“It’s literally the starting point of all of our work, so pick a project,” he says, mentioning school boards, new transit lines and aging neighborhoods as a handful of examples. “The tendrils of this work go all the way through every city in the country.”

A former Census Bureau employee speaks out…

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

A letter from the Lake County Record-Bee has drawn our attention.  A former enumerator writes:

Hello, I am (or was) a census enumerator and wrote a letter to Dr. Groves, The chief director of the 2010 Census, however I am unable to find his address or e-mail address, so I wanted to share my thoughts with others. It’s about my recent experience with working for the census bureau.

If I could reach Dr. Groves I would tell him the following: Hello, Dr. Groves, this is enumerator No. 3749397 coming to you out of area No. 2714. CL No. 0504.

I have been searching for someone who could address my concerns regarding the way the completion of NRFU was handled; the employment status of most of us enumerators.

It would seem a majority of us were told we would be participating in the completion of what my crew leader called “phase two” and would not be out of a job come July 22. I myself even received an extension of said temporary employment in my mailbox just a few days thereafter, and therefore remained unconcerned with procuring another job, career or any such form of income, assuming I would be continuing onto the next phase of the census and would be rather busy in the following months.

Now, personally, I have not received any further communication from office No. 2714 in regards to my continued or discontinued employment, and have made several attempts to contact them, in which case they have simply told me to ask my crew leader, who did not have any information at all.”….”I have just called my crew leader worried, as my last check will be coming in the mail this Wednesday and it will simply not be enough to get us through the month, and she informed me that if I was not called on Friday I would not be working Monday. It appears the bureau had called and selected workers completely at random, much like some sort of sick lottery and I was simply unlucky. Despite receiving an extension and the assurance of my crew leader, and others, despite being a hard and dependable worker most unlike the rest of my team and despite pushing and waiting for some form of contact from the Census Bureau, I am now unemployed and yet, technically employed until Aug. 22 thanks to your worthless extension.”

Census, employment rate wind down

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I’m seeing several reports of the unemployment rate being affected by the end of census jobs. Georgia’s The Augusta Chronicle, Tampa’s ABC Action News, and San Diego’s North County Times all have similar stories. It’s all part of the process, baby. Here’s an excellent piece by Darcy Courteau over at The Atlantic that reflects on the end of these census jobs:

The Divine Impermanence of Being a Census Worker

Day two of our Census Bureau training, fingerprinted and cleared, it was time to briefly introduce ourselves and tell the group why we were here. I was first. I reached for the only shred of experience I’d had with the Census Bureau. Ten years ago I was living in a shack on my grandparents’ Ozark property — a place so overgrown I usually missed the turnoff — when a man from the Census showed up. I held up my hands, shaking them, to show how he’d trembled in terror when he stepped from his car. The day before, down another remote road, an anti-government militia with AK-47s had ambushed him. “So,” I finished, “since then I’ve had a burning passion for the Census adventure.”

Our instructor turned to the guy next to me, who stood, said “paycheck,” and sat back down. “I think it’s safe to say that’s why we’re all here,” the instructor muttered. Everyone agreed, aside from a couple of defiant middle-aged women who declared that they were here to get to know the community.

We were re-interviewers, our mission to spot-check data the first waves of Census enumerators had scared up. Training wasn’t much more interactive than listening to verbatim readings from two manuals that our instructor shook at us, a demoralized Moses with perfect bound books full of commandments, though there was only one that really mattered: no overtime, never, DO NOT CLAIM OVERTIME. Our black and white shoulder bags we packed as a group. A team leader asked us to note our reclose-able plastic baggies of pencils, and, leaving nothing to chance, instructed us not to empty the contents into our shoulder bags, as loose pencils would roll around the bottom of a bag.

I’ve been in the field since, long enough to absorb a few more useful bits of knowledge. Newly arrived in Washington, I’ve learned that those women in training were on to something. It might seem obvious, but a great way to get the lay of the land city is to drive its back streets, stopping at homes of strangers to ask if they consider themselves to be male or female, what races they’d like to claim, if they’ve lived somewhere else during the year including jail, prison, or a nursing home, and–when you’re wrapping things up–whether there are any babies in the house they’ve forgotten to mention.

My small crew meets each morning at 8:15 at a McDonald’s where we turn in completed cases — those for which we’ve finally buttonholed a householder — to the crew leader, a trained actor who fields our queries with Old Hollywood gravitas; only when he’s found another ding in his Civic does he break character, falling into unactorly grousing. We swap stories over a syrup-gummed four-top: no militias yet, but we have had our share of doozies. The man who left me a perfectly printed note atop the Notice of Visit I had slipped under his door — hours before being arrested and jailed, I learned from neighbors — was more gracious than another woman who screamed that her boyfriend was going to take care of me, a threat issued straight from the nose as her eyes stared in opposite directions like a hammerhead shark’s. One of my colleague’s occupants told her to go away and then waited her out behind his door. But she’s a 61-year-old bewigged karate brown belt who moonlights as a security guard, and has a few tricks of her own. She had worn jeans on her first visit to his house, but surveying the upscale neighborhood, decided to adjust her look for the next. Gussied up in a church dress and fresh wig, she returned. The man opened the door and greeted her like a friend, tut-tutting about the grubby girl who’d come the night before. He wouldn’t let that one in.

We might seem like an odd bunch, with our dented fleet of emissions-test-failing cars, but for now, we’re the demographers who are mapping the country’s human geography. Not for long, though. Another great lesson of the summer is on the Divine Impermanence of being a Census worker. In May there were nearly 600,000 of us earning paychecks across the United States — a number large enough to ratchet down the unemployment rate by 0.2 percent. But even now our numbers are eroding: in weeks only a few thousand enumerators will be left to follow up on fewer than 20 million residences of the original 130,000,000. Come September, the last door will have been knocked upon. The Census website provides a page for former employees back in the job market that lists our various job titles along with bulleted duties and the stern directive to “copy and paste only the information describing tasks you actually performed into your resume.”

The past weeks have also revealed the Impermanence of most Washingtonians, who seem never to be home and indeed to have a Buddha-like detachment from sleep, food preparation, and other people. For upwardly mobile whites living on Capitol Hill, the mark of achievement appears to be living alone, regardless of how isolated and ill-lit the apartment. The farther I go from downtown, however, the more intricate become the household counts. At the city’s edge one morning, a very young woman answered her door in cartoon-printed pajamas and a headscarf. Too shy and sleepy to refuse, she sat on the porch and answered my questions. Her boyfriend’s grandmother owned the house and lived there with several relatives, including the boyfriend. Realizing that the girl was not only the youngest in the household but the only one not related by blood, I asked if this was where she lived and slept most of the time, Census-speak for permanent address. She glanced at the front door. “I ain’t going nowhere.” The way she said it, I swear she was staking a claim.

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

Friday, July 16th, 2010

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.

Another Canadian Follow-up

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

To help Morse on his Canadian coverage, Steven Chase of The Globe and Mail once again has another update on the Canadian Census controversy. If you haven’t been following, the Conservatives in charge have scrapped a mandatory long-form census for 20% of Canadians, thereby appearing particularly small government AND giving a hard time to researchers who use the long form data for things such as social services. The Conservatives have now refused requests to reverse that decision, presumably to please the Conservative political base (who were angered by Conservatives’ recent deficit records.)

The story:

Tories refuse to reverse census decision

Steven Chase
Ottawa — From Friday’s Globe and Mail
Published on Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010 2:46PM EDT
Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010 10:53PM EDT
They’ve been in power for four long years, but Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have found a way to cast themselves as anti-government populists once more.

The Tories are refusing to reverse a decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census questionnaire – even in the face of broadening opposition – calling it an unwarranted intrusion into Canadians’ personal lives.

The controversy has morphed into a culture war skirmish between the Harper government and critics, one that allows the Tories – despite running record deficits – to paint themselves as anti-Ottawa for the red-meat Conservative political base vital to winning elections. The most hard-core in this group were horrified when the Tories went deep into debt to finance a two-year stimulus program.

While every household must answer basic questions when the census-takers come calling, about one-fifth of Canadians have traditionally been required, under threat of fines or jail time, to respond to a lengthy list of 50-plus enquiries about their home, work lives and ethnicity.

Not any more. And those who rely on the treasure trove of data generated – from social scientists to health researchers, businesses and charities – are warning in ever-louder voices that this will severely undermine the quality and accuracy of census information.

Asked to explain why this matters to the core Conservative constituency, one senior Tory strategist said, on background: “It’s all about the nanny state. Why is it mandatory to tell the government how many bedrooms are in your house?”

The Conservatives are hard-pressed to prove Canadians are substantially concerned about the mandatory long form or have faced significant repercussions. Canada’s federal privacy watchdog says it received only three complaints about the census in the past decade: two in 2006 and one in 2001.

But Industry Minister Tony Clement said on Thursday that Canadians worried about the meddlesome arm of the state aren’t likely to bring their concerns to the Ottawa-based Office of the Privacy Commissioner. They are likely to tell their MPs.

“If you’re concerned about government intrusion, you’re not likely to complain to another organ of government,” Mr. Clement said in an interview. “They would see it as compounding the issue if they complained.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner is an arms-length body that is outside the control of the federal government. But Mr. Clement said this distinction is lost on many. “No offence to the Privacy Commissioner, but most people wouldn’t understand that [this] person is an independent actor.”

The concerns the Tories seek to mollify are similar to the sentiments that drove the right-wing Tea Party movement in the United States to call for a boycott of the 2010 U.S. census.

Mr. Clement dismisses the comparison. “I didn’t know about the larger trends. I have no idea what the Tea Party stands for or what they are saying.”

He rejects the idea there’s an “ideological boundary” to resentment about the mandatory long-form census. “It’s people … who just want to be left alone a little bit.”

The Industry Minister said Statistics Canada has assured him enough steps are being taken to make up for the absence of the mandatory long form and ensure the quality of the census is maintained. During the 2011 census, one third of households will receive a voluntary long-form questionnaire. Ottawa will mount an ad campaign to encourage responses.

On Thursday, the Canadian Medical Association Journal joined the protest, saying in an editorial that scrapping the mandatory long form is a case where “ideology trumps evidence.” It warned that the changes could hurt health-care planning and delivery.

Mr. Clement said the medical journal and other critics should trust Statistics Canada.

Canada’s crazy (by Canadian standards) census controversy…

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

The Canadian census soap opera continues!

Robert M. Groves on Fox News: You can trust 2010 Census data

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Click here for the article…

We, The Census

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Jamie Stiehm over at U.S. Daily News and Report has an interesting essay on the unifying essence of the Census. When these days certain talk-show hosts with a disproportinate amount of influence can rally a good chnk of Americans against the Census, it’s nice to read about it’s completely Constitutional inception. Take a look:

Have I told you how much I love the Census? Jump in, let’s go for a ride around the block of American democracy to count every single person living on it–babies, the young and the old, students and workers, single and married, rich, poor, and anxious members of the middle class, artists and bus drivers, wired and not, employed and unemployed, the uninsured sick and the covered healthy, military and civilian, homeless, incarcerated and free, citizens and immigrants, people of any religion, color, language or kind. And now it’s over this time around, so let me say a few good words on what it’s all about.

The Census is the closest we come to giving true, timely meaning to “We the People.” It’s a quintessentially American pursuit, dreamed up and penned on paper by the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention, this “enumeration” process of counting the particulars to understand the whole. The first Census, carried out in 1790, was directed by Thomas Jefferson. It held up a mirror to an energetic nation, a brilliant mosaic then as well as now, inventing itself. African-Americans were in the first census, both enslaved and free blacks, but their lower social status was reflected by the lack of names for each and every one. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1870 Census, the first taken after the Civil War, that African-Americans were considered citizens with recorded names to go with their numbers. The pre-1870 silence was broken; family genealogies and histories at last began to speak more clearly across time. For historians, names to go with occupations and addresses meant precious identities could be recovered, say, for a study of the community of Chesapeake watermen back in the late 19th century.

Jefferson’s direction of the first Census is a little-known fact. That’s a shame, for it may have helped quell the tide of anti-government hostility and threats many Census 2010 workers encountered on the job. Doors were slammed in their faces, dogs snarled at and bit them, and some were even run off private property with a shotgun. Jefferson, the Founding Father most fearful of government intrusion into people’s lives and liberty and all that jazz, understood that a proper census was essential to political fair play in dividing up each state’s seats in Congress. More than that, the inquiring social scientist in him wished to know the answer to who dwelled where in the early Republic. Take Nantucket Island, in 1790 a rising whaling capital. The answer: about 5,000 whites, predominantly Quakers, and just a handful of native Wampanoag Indians.

The first Census was a wonder to behold, carried out by federal marshals. So was the last, though ours tells a sadder story. The sheer scope and ambition involved in organizing this endeavor (every 10 years) of counting us, in cities and plains, by the millions, is breathtaking. I remember explaining the Census 2000 methods to a fascinated journalist from Bosnia and taking him to the enormous nerve center of Baltimore’s operation. As a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, it was my job to be there, but it was also my pleasure. I was actually proud to see the job the federal government was doing in counting this city populace of about 650,000 souls in the last peaceful and prosperous year of the Clinton presidency. The Democratic mayor, now Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, was happy with that number because it showed the city had slowed losing residents at a rapid rate. Once an industrial powerhouse, the waterfront city of Baltimore hit its peak population in mid-century. In 1950, it weighed in at 900,000 residents, census figures show. Baltimore before the Civil War had the largest population of free blacks.

These are good things to know to trace the ebb and flow of our own back stories. And even in an age of profound distress, economic and otherwise, the Census can be a morale-booster as an excellent temporary employer to help make ends meet for all manner of people. Unfortunately, all those well-paying government jobs for census-takers are now being phased out. They include college graduates and middle-aged job seekers who will be out in the cold of this 9.5 percent unemployment-rate economy again. While they enjoyed getting to know their communities better, few look forward to being on their own again, missing a sense of mission. Counting 300 million people (more or less) creates motivation and dedication among its civilian foot soldiers. It’s a shame to say good-bye to people who are serving their country, too, if not in uniform.

To prescient Republicans in the George W. Bush era, geniuses who decided to skip the “occupation” question for Census 2010 forms and visits, it’s as if you knew relatively few would have an answer ready on that point. That’s the tragic flaw of this census, that we won’t have a well of rich first-hand reporting on how people across America fended for themselves and fed their families in these hard times, the worst in memory for many. This disservice to ordinary peoples’ lives and our collective social history, like past blind spots in the Census, shall not soon be forgotten and forgiven.

The EEO data I have been waiting for has arrived…

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Thanks to Michael Cook of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office, I was able to obtain the most up-to-date data on EEO complaints. I have been waiting for the Census Bureau to get me this data for a long time now, and I’m glad that it’s here. As you will see, the number of complaints related to the decennial census is quite large. If you filed a complaint, please comment here about how the process has turned out for you and what your experience has been like:

Decennial NO FEAR Act data for 2009 and the first two quarters of 2010

Buy official 2010 Census employee gear on EBay.com

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Thanks to the reader who noted this in the comments section of a previous post. I have railed on the Census Bureau for a while now about how easy it is for scammers or other individuals to find 2010 Census paraphernalia because the Census Bureau didn’t use proper identifying information for its employees:

Brooklyn Ink: Passed Over, Borough Park Gets A Census Recount

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Here’s a great feature from a Columbia University journalism student:

By Sharyn Jackson

There was silverware to change, food to prepare, and bread to burn. One thing there wasn’t, for more than half the residents of the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was time to fill out the 2010 census, mailed to Americans less than two weeks before Passover. The eight-day holiday commemorating ancient Jews’ exodus from Egypt requires intense preparations for the observant; because of a restrictive diet that week, houses must be scoured from top to bottom for any residual crumbs from the rest of the year. “When it comes to Passover, we put everything aside,” said Chaya Konig, 37, a Hasidic Jewish resident from Borough Park who works as an enumerator, the official name for census counters. “By the time we got to the mail after Passover, it was too late.”

The coincidence of the census’ mailing close to Passover is one reason, census officials say, that Borough Park’s mail-in response rate was less than 50 percent on average, with some tracts hovering close to 40 percent. In contrast, 55 percent of Brooklyn as a whole returned the survey, and 60 percent of all of New York City. (As of April 27, the mail-response deadline, national participation was at 72 percent.) With such a low response rate in one of New York City’s most populous neighborhoods, the census has had to revisit Borough Park residents with the help of local religious institutions and enumerators, who will finish their door-to-door efforts this week.

Due to the high birth-rate among this central Brooklyn neighborhood’s Hasidic Jewish inhabitants, the population here is expected to have increased exponentially since the last census in 2000. The New York City Department of Health has cited Borough Park as the neighborhood with the highest annual birth rate since it began keeping those statistics in 2003. With New York poised for legislative redistricting after the census results are tallied, Borough Park’s baby boom could mean more power for the Hasidic voting bloc. And with $400 billion of federal money allocated for infrastructure projects based on those results, which will be released in October, it could mean more affordable housing for this chronically overcrowded neighborhood.

“Unfortunately, the timing of the mail-out was not convenient,” said Denise da Costa Graeff, the census manager for northwest Brooklyn. “That was a major issue for this area.” Still, she said, a conflict like this one was inevitable. “I can’t speak for headquarters,” she said, “but if the national plan took into account every obstacle, we’d never get it done.”

It is not possible to cater the mailing dates to holidays, said Michael Cook, a national census spokesperson. “When we mail out the forms we totally understand that there is diversity among American residents, whether it depends upon holidays or things that are germane to their culture,” he said. But, said Cook, once the surveys reach mailboxes, Americans have roughly six weeks to fill out the form. After that, enumerators come knocking.

But the high concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews in this neighborhood poses specific challenges even to enumeration. For one thing, women in Borough Park won’t open their doors to men they don’t know. That’s how Xiomara Luchen, 35, from the Greenwood Heights section of Brooklyn, found herself assigned to Borough Park – a place she had never even visited before. Luchen had been working for the census in nearby Sunset Park when da Costa Graeff reassigned her here in May because of a shortage of females. (The census usually assigns enumerators to work in the neighborhood in which they live.)

“I use a lot of sign language,” said Luchen, a Spanish-English interpreter and real estate agent, of dealing with the many Borough Park residents who speak Yiddish. “It’s a way to communicate.”

Luchen, who has dark hair and features, found it easier to connect with the Hasidim here than she expected. “Some people ask me, ‘Are you Jewish?’” said Luchen. “And I would say, ‘No I’m not,’ and they’d actually have a smile on their faces and say, ‘You know, you look Jewish.’”

Luchen picked up tips on the unofficial neighborhood dress code—long skirts and cardigans—from her crew leader, as well as walking around and observing the locals. “In this community,” said Luchen, “I’d rather not wear pants.”

Appearance is vital, said Chaya Konig, the Hasidic enumerator. “If you would have had this guy come with his hair standing up in a green color, they wouldn’t even open the door,” she said. We are a very close-knit community; we don’t see much of the outside world, so when we see a stranger we’re taught not to open doors.”

Census enumerator Xiomara Luchen goes door-to-door in the Borough Park section of BrooklynCensus enumerator Xiomara Luchen goes door-to-door in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn (Sharyn Jackson/ The Brooklyn Ink) (more…)

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Brooklyn scandal is just the tip of the iceberg

Monday, July 12th, 2010

What happened last month at the Brooklyn LCO was indeed unfortunate. But let us not be naive: Data collection inaccuracies and falsifications are happening throughout the entire New York Regional Area and possibly the entire nation, though perhaps on a smaller scale than in Brooklyn.

There are many luxury rental and condominum buildings where real estate management companies have a strict “no enumerator” policy, as well as tenement buildings  and brownstones where it is impossible to gain access. There are also one or two family houses where it is unclear how many people live there and a knowledgeable proxy could not be located.

For these units, some enumerators went to public search records on the Internet or merely wrote the names off the mailboxes. The mid and upper level census managers encouraged field staff to use techniques to “guesstimate,” creating major operational ambiguity for the once in a decade headcount.

What was acceptable inside the questionnaire was another problem. Most enumerators tried to get all the information but those who went to a proxy who gave them little, no, or inaccurate information, finished their areas quickly. These same field staff were rewarded with more work and allowed to clean up districts that were lagging behind.

These cases are the same ones where quality assurance suspects poor data collection practices or data falsification. However, in some cases re-interview staff are unable to locate the respondent to verify whether the interview was actually conducted and prove it definitively. Many other quality assurance managers are told to “just pass it” or are afraid to accuse enumerators of poor quality work, fearing that they will be stepping on people’s toes.

For two years municipalities and city officials preached about the beauty of the census through media and print advertising. They encouraged people to send back their census forms saying it was the only way to ensure that their residents were counted and for their community to receive the federal funding it was entitled to.

But these city officials did little in the way in forcing real estate management companies and reluctant respondents to cooperate when their participation was required. The fact that the Census Bureau and Department of Commerce made empty threats to fine people for not cooperating and then did not follow through on it shows how poorly 2010 Census data has been managed.

The offices in the five boroughs of New York will be the last in the nation to finish NRFU, whereas most areas were done weeks ago. The few career census employees who valued a fair and accurate count and finished last can not be proud of their work. Those responsible for promoting the individuals won’t let them be proud. When it comes time for their annual performance reviews, the fact they finished last will be reflected poorly and jeopardize their careers.

What happened in Brooklyn should not come as a surprise. In retrospect the Census did what it usually does. It set hard line production goals, held managers and field staff accountable and fired them if they failed to meet these goals with little constructive technical support. Those who work quickly are rewarded with more work with little regard to accuracy.

I dedicate this post to the many crew leaders, field operations supervisors and LCO manager who lost their jobs because they valued a fair and accurate count.

Will this census be our last?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Two days ago, the BBC reported that the UK’s 2011 Census may the that nation’s last:

In future, data could be gathered from records held by the Post Office, local government and credit checking agencies – thought to be more effective.

The government said it was “examining” whether changes could be made but no decision had been reached.

This is an interesting development, particularly as funds for the 2020 Census will soon be allocated. Though pro-immigration groups and organizations like the ACLU feel that forcing everyone in America to register with the government would be problematic, many nations already have national identity cards, which, if implemented in the US, would make creating a “portrait of America” that much easier.

Undercounting AND a lower participation rate?

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

We have already addressed concerns of under-counting in the state of Texas.  News 8 in Austin is reporting that Texas has an average response rate that is 3 points below the national average.

“According to bureau officials, Texas has an overall lower participation rate than 2000. The census bureau office reported a 72 percent average participation rate across the nation, but only a 69 percent participation rate in Texas.”

It will be interesting to find out how much federal money Texas will loose because of their reduced response rate and undercounting.

Census Countdown Brings Fear of Exclusion

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal continues to highlight concerns that the 2010 Census is not getting an accurate count of all US residents.

“HIDALGO, Texas—As census takers wrap up door-to-door counting, community organizers in hard-to-count areas are worried that some of their residents will be missed, again.

Interest in the 2010 population count—used to distribute federal funds and assign House seats during redistricting—has surged across the U.S., with some 250,000 community groups signing up to help in hopes of a more accurate count than in previous decades.

But even with their input, leaders in many communities remain doubtful about the census results.

“I’m just not confident that we’re going to have a 100% accurate count,” said Judge Rene Ramirez, Hidalgo county’s top administrator.”

These concerns are not trivial and an undercount will have very real financial consequences for rural areas that have already been hit hard by the recent recession.  Data from the 2010 census is used to allocate federal funding and Hidalgo county officials point to the results of an undercount in the 2000 census.

“Hidalgo has already lived through the consequences of an undercount. The 2000 Census underestimated its population by 1.8% or 13,902 inhabitants, resulting in a loss of $51.6 million in government funds including Medicaid, foster care and vocational education, according to a study commissioned by a board created by Congress.”

Mytwocensus.com has documented other instances where the 2010 Census has failed to get an accurate count of residents.  One case was in West Texas, the other instance was in New York City.  These concerns have not been addressed in a satisfactory manner by Census officials and we feel this is unacceptable.

Hearing to take place on Brooklyn scandal…

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

From the New York Daily News:

BY MICHAEL MCAULIFF

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee has set a hearing into the Brooklyn Census office that dummied up thousands of questionnaires, prompting the firing of two managers and do-overs for 10,000 family surveys.

edtowns.jpg

Rep. Ed Towns, whose district is next door to the Northeast Brooklyn Census office that used the Internet and phone books to fill out forms, set the hearing for July 19 in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.

“Given my commitment to the success of the 2010 Census, this recent problem is particularly troubling,” said Towns, who ironically held an earlier hearing in the very census office that later became a problem.

“Any attempt to compromise the integrity of the census is simply unacceptable given what is at stake for our community,” Towns said of the shenanigans first reported by the Daily News. “I am holding this hearing to ensure that the Census Bureau is following all of the necessary steps to accurately count every resident in Brooklyn.”

Among those invited to testify are Census Director Robert Groves, Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser, and Tony Farthing, the census regional director.

A note on reliable data from the United Nations…

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Reliable information is essential for governments to formulate policies that would meet people’s needs and improve their lives, according to Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. “With quality data, we can better track and make greater progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and promote and protect the dignity and human rights of all people,” she said in her statement for World Population Day, which falls on Sunday, 11 July.

‘Everyone counts,’ the theme of this year’s Day, highlights the compelling stories that numbers tell us about people, said Ms. Obaid. “On this World Population Day,” she added, “UNFPA asserts the right of everyone to be counted, especially women, girls, the poor and marginalized.”

(More here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/UNFPA/World_Population_Day/prweb4242294.htm)

Transcript from Census Bureau Director’s latest press briefing…

Friday, July 9th, 2010

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.