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 the ‘Redistricting’ Category

The latest update on the Brooklyn 2010 Census falsification scandal (Price Tag: $250K)

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

MyTwoCensus has been informed that Census Bureau employees have been lifting information off the Internet and falsifying forms at locations throughout the country. Whistleblowers should not hesitate to contact MyTwoCensus.com immediately. Your confidentiality will be 100% maintained.

On Monday, July 19, 2010, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled, “Is Brooklyn Being Counted? – Problems With the 2010 Census” to examine a recent incident involving two senior managers at the Brooklyn North East Local Census Office who were fired for fraudulently completing census surveys.  The hearing examined the steps the Census Bureau is taking to ensure the accuracy of the 2010 count. The New York State Congressional Delegation has been invited to participate in the hearing.

The hearing was held on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in the courtroom of Brooklyn Borough Hall, located at 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY.

The witnesses who testified were:

Dr. Robert M. Groves
Director
U.S. Census Bureau

Mr. Todd J. Zinser
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Commerce

Mr. Lester A. Farthing
Regional Director
U.S. Census Bureau NY Regional Census Center

Opening Statement of Chairman Edolphus Towns

Opening Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay

Opening Statement of Rep. Yvette Clarke

Prepared testimony of Dr. Robert Groves

Prepared testimony of Mr. Todd Zinser

According to the New York Daily News:

The bungling was first uncovered last month when two census managers were discovered faking surveys by lifting information off the Internet.

Brooklyn Northeast census manager Alvin Aviles and assistant Sonya Merritt were axed – and 4,200 questionnaires had to be redone.

Redoing the phony forms – which is almost complete – will cost taxpayers $250,000, Groves revealed.

To make matters worse, a whistleblower recently alerted officials that some of the new surveys also were fudged by workers who took their best guess when no one answered the door.

The workers estimated the number of people living in a home based on information such as names on mailboxes, Groves said at the hearing.

“This … is a clear violation of procedures,” he said.

Groves said the second snafu affected a few hundred households. He blamed the mistake on confused workers who misunderstood instructions.

The bureau is investigating whether information was faked in any other offices in Brooklyn or around the country.

He promised the bureau will come up with an accurate count and said that the recount of all 4,200 surveys will be done in a few days.

“I want to say how troubled I am that this occurred,” Groves said. “This activity violates all the principles for which the Census Bureau stands. It is an abhorrent act.”

According to Gothamist:

Census Recounters Messed Up Recount, Re-recount Planned

Those Brooklyn Census workers really don’t want to lose their jobs. After being instructed to redo more than 4,000 falsified Census forms, workers at the Brooklyn Northeast Census office botched the corrections and must complete the forms a third time.

One office worker recently alerted officials that some workers were fudging answers when people wouldn’t answer their doors—exactly what managers Alvin Aviles and Sonya Merritt did to get themselves fired and start this whole mess in the first place. The best part is the whole $250,000 SNAFU could probably have been avoided, since Census workers are allowed to leave questions blank if they cannot obtain the information by either first person or “proxy” interviews.

At a hearing yesterday regarding the first set of faked forms, Congressman Ed Towns said, “I represent a district that is comprised of a number of so-called ‘hard to count’ communities…These communities present challenges to the Census Bureau, but these challenges must be met.” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves says the second round of mistakes were caused by confused workers who misunderstood instructions, and that it should be worked out shortly. Still, he said, “I want to say how troubled I am that this occurred. This activity violates all the principles for which the Census Bureau stands. It is an abhorrent act.”

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.

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.

Mississippi feels that the Census Bureau “dropped the ball” on the 2010 headcount

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Here’s the article.

Is it redistricting time already? Some transparency please!

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The following story comes from OMB Watch:

The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute convened an advisory board of experts and representatives of good government groups in order to articulate principles for transparent redistricting and to identify barriers to the public and communities who wish to create redistricting plans.

Redistricting is a legally and technically complex process. Access to district creation and analysis software can encourage broad participation by: being widely accessible and easy to use; providing mapping and evaluating tools that help the public to create legal redistricting plans, as well as maps identifying local communities; be accompanied by training materials to assist the public to successfully create and evaluate legal redistricting plans and define community boundaries; have publication capabilities that allow the public to examine maps in situations where there is no access to the software; and promote social networking and allow the public to compare, exchange and comment on both official and community-produced maps.

KansasReporter.org: Spike in Census errors on campus

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The following piece comes from KansasReporter.org, which is a project of the Kansas Policy Institute, and is run by a team of veteran journalists:

By Gene Meyer, June 17, 2010

(KansasReporter) TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Secretary of State’s office has found a big spike in census errors on Kansas campuses that could affect the redrawing of electoral boundaries throughout the state.

Census workers in the secretary of state’s office found significant errors in 30 percent of 25,000 of the more than 100,000 responses they received this spring for a special survey that Kansas conducts each 10 years in connection with the federal decennial census.

By comparison, only 9 percent of the comparable forms turned in 10 years ago were flawed, said Abbie Hodgson, the office’s public affairs director. Many of the latest errors appeared to involve missing information, she said.

State workers need to contact students and resolve the mistakes now to avoid bigger problems as Kansas legislators redraw Congressional, Kansas Legislature and Kansas State Board of Education boundaries during the next two years, said Chris Biggs, Kansas’ secretary of state.

“It’s important that students complete the adjustment form so that they are counted in their hometowns during redistricting,” Biggs said Thursday. “We’re in the process of reaching out…to ensure that we have complete and accurate information.”

Federal census numbers are used to recalculate everything from boundaries for federal and state legislative districts to the equitable distribution of about $400 billion in annual, population-linked spending within each state, said Rich Gerdes, an assistant regional director of the U.S. Census, in Kansas City, Kan.

But exactly how states use those numbers to draw legislative boundaries and divide the money usually is up to state legislatures so long as their members follow broad guidelines regarding equal representation. Kansas and at least seven other states require lawmakers there to make some specific adjustments to federal numbers that most will receive nine or 10 months from now.

In Kansas, a constitutional amendment passed sometime before the 1990 federal census requires that college students and military service members  be counted as residents of their home towns, not the campus or military communities where they might live nine or more months a year.

“That’s different from how we list them on the federal census,” said Gerdes. “We would list them where they live most of the year.”

Legislators use the federal numbers to calculate U.S. Congressional districts and the state-adjusted numbers to determine state legislative and school board districts. And populations can change markedly between the calculations. Heavily populated Johnson County, in northeastern Kansas, gained nearly 2,600 additional residents in 2000, when absent college students were sent home statistically. Less densely populated Riley County, further west, lost more than 13,000 residents when Fort Riley families and Kansas State University students by the same process. (more…)

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Is Florida already gearing up for a challenge to its 2010 Census figures?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

First, here’s some background: States and municipalities have the power to challenge census results. For instance, just this year the Census Bureau admitted that its numbers were faulty for a number of locales around the country and eventually adjusted the totals, immediately effecting how federal funds were/are distributed. A few days ago, Microsoft released a press release stating that it is now operating a software system for the state of Florida that will help the state identify areas where the Census Bureau may have screwed up and failed to count people.

(Check out the site here at myfloridacensus.com)

site note: maybe I should sue Microsoft/the state of Florida for infringing on the mytwocensus name with myfloridacensus? any lawyers out there want to advise me on this one?

The press release states the following:

“The Florida House of Representatives is making one final push over the next month for its state residents to be counted in the 2010 Census, through its MyFloridaCensus (http://www.myfloridacensus.gov) website and Web-based application. MyFloridaCensus is an innovative component in Florida’s overall effort to ensure a complete count of residents during the ongoing 2010 Census, supplementing door-to-door canvassing, which ends nationwide July 10.”

Ostensibly, if Florida doesn’t like its total population count as identified by the Census Bureau, it will happily use data collected through myfloridacensus.com to fight the Census Bureau in its challenge. Does this mean that the stage is already being set for yet another bloody recount in Florida, this one to take place in 2011, ten years after the last one rocked the nation and changed the course of history?

Must-Read: New York’s 2010 Census nightmare

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The following report comes from a Census Bureau official whose identity has been confirmed but will remain anonymous as she is a current Census Bureau employee:

The five boroughs of New York City and its diversified population of eight million have long eluded demographers and census employees in producing an accurate count. Having worked in three censuses now and living in New York for almost my entire adult life I notice that the socioeconomic spectrum of New Yorkers has widened, making the poor poorer and the rich richer. In the last ten years there is an influx of immigrants; some legal some illegal. It makes what was once a one family home in Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx a two or even three family home. These people are living in converted basements or the second story of the houses some legal some illegal. On the other end of the spectrum, luxury rentals and condominiums have become even more exclusive with price tags in the millions of dollars. In both cases the immigrants and residents of these upscale housing units and their exclusive real estate management companies have ignored repeated attempts by phone or mail to allow enumeration.  Even in the face of a fine, the management companies are adamant about their policy and would willingly pay the fine rather than to allow enumerators to count their residents. The problem is the Census’ Bureau’s threat of a fine is merely used as a scare tactic. When a real estate mogul calls their bluff the actual fine like many other Census Bureau promises is empty.

As native New Yorkers we anticipated these problems. And sitting through four days of verbatim training where someone read through a book, we knew that it wasn’t as simple as the script made it to be to persuade these respondents about the importance of the census and their participation. As a group we brainstormed and created techniques through trial and error to get those who were non-responsive to fill out our questionnaires. Some of these tactics included: sending another enumerator of a different race or creed after several visits with no contact; leaving blank enumerator questionnaires under their door allowing them the privacy of completing it in their own home. One of us even went as far as sending well dressed suits or female fashion models to coerce participation. But all this takes time and money. All of which with 15 billion price tag the Census Bureau doesn’t have.

With inaccurate workload estimation models and front loading the Census Bureau overrecruited, overhired on many operations in preparation for the final major operation: non-response followup. One of the major costs was the paper based operational control system PBOCS which has been the subject of intense scrutiny by media, Congress and employees because of its inability to check out, check out and ship questionnaires and generate management reports. The managers who are monitoring productivity and costs are trained to believe if the reports don’t show it’s done then it isn’t done. With only erroneous reports to rely on, headquarters and regional offices are using a take no prisoners do whatever it takes attitude to pressure temporary employees to complete the task. PBOCS also moves assignment areas fooling LCO managers and field staff into thinking they have more or less work than they have. And ultimately this may have long term geography problems when the Census is completed and used for congressional redistricting.

Since PBOCS doesn’t work correctly and fails to handle the workload, The Census Bureau runs on a more is better attitude. The solution is hire more employees for manually counting and reviewing enumerator questionnaires when they should have slowed enumerator production. Local Census offices have gone from a simple 9am-5:30pm operation to running three shifts 24 hours a day seven days a week with triple to quadruple what their staffing authorizations originally allowed. This compounded the bottleneck, increased the backlog of questionnaires waiting to be checked in and slowed the re -interview and quality assurance phase. There is overwhelming suspicion of data falsification and false proxies but by the time this is figured out the operation will end and the enumerators already released for lack of work.

Now what was originally touted as the most accurate decennial count ever has quickly turned into a race to meet production goals and wrap up the operation as quickly as possible with procedural changes.  We have enumerators, telephone clerks in the LCO, and enumerators from other LCOs taking interviews ignoring the fact that PBOCS will only let you check it in under an enumerator and that if data falsification is happening it will be difficult to find the culprit. What were originally any six personal and telephone visits is now three visits go to a proxy. What used to be try to get the household member because he knows his own name, sex, age, DOB, Hispanic origin and race and whether he rents or owns has become going to a proxy on a first visit and sometimes writing don’t know on most if not all of those questions. Sadly this actually passes the office review portion and nothing in the enumerator procedures disallows that. If a respondent refuses and a proxy is able to give any of the information no matter how knowledgeable he/she is that doesn’t constitute marking it as a refusal, skewing the accuracy of the data.

The incentives of career census employees at RCC and headquarters are in contradiction with each enumerator who wants our city to be accurately counted. The career census employees’ evaluation of performance is purely based on numbers how many cases are completed with little regard to the demography or difficulty of enumerating the population. Their expectation is that the enumeration of traditionally undercounted minorities of Bedford Stuyvesant be just as quick as the white, upper middle class of Upper West Side of Manhattan. The very same agency whose motto has always been the leading source of data about the nation’s people and economy has become a competition between area managers and local census offices.

The leadership in the local census offices isn’t the strongest either. Those who made hiring decisions in New York RCC had every chance to hire the best managers but instead resorted to nepotism to make decisions. When it was clear these decisions were poor the career census employees terminated LCO managers’ employment to cover it up. But then found another disappointing replacement. In an attempt to bring operations up to speed the Census Bureau flew in managers from Denver into Manhattan and headquarters to Staten Island.

The goal is for enumerators to get as many cases in and clerks process work as quickly as possible doing whatever it takes to get the job done, otherwise there will be a formal written reprimand and termination of their employment. It is the chest beating, gorilla apelike attitude of the managers that will ultimately be the demise of New York City.

Lester Farthing, the Regional Director and his managers of the New York Regional Census Center have no intention of an accurate count in the five boroughs. Instead their goal is to appease headquarters, finish as quickly as possible so that the career census employees will be viewed as productive team players who are not questioning the possible inaccuracy of this count. As one of our area managers will say “it’s a hot mess.” I only hope the mayor of our great city Michael Bloomberg, city census coordinator Stacey Cumberbatch, politicians and congressmen are reading this letter and will intervene because ultimately it is the city that will suffer for the next ten years. They were quick to make public announcements touting the importance of participating in the census by returning the forms. But have yet to do anything to persuade non cooperative households and real estate management companies to allow enumerators in to complete their job. The sad reality is that it may be too little too late.

With the way the census works can any of us ever trust census data again?

CNSNews.com Inspector General’s Memo: Census Says It Hired More Workers Than It Needed As a ‘Cost-Saving Measure’

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Interesting article from CNS News (click HERE for full article):

The U.S. Census purposefully hired more workers than it needed, telling the Office of the Inspector General of the Commerce Department that it did so as a “cost-saving measure,” according to a memorandum that Todd J. Zinser of the inspector general’s office sent to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves last week.

“According to Census,” said Zinser’s May 26 memo to Groves, “‘frontloading’ its workforce (i.e. hiring and training more enumerators than necessary to offset turnover) is a cost-saving measure.” The inspector general’s memo, however, suggested that in at least one Census Bureau operation excessive staff had increased the “cost of operations” and that in another operation deployment of an unnecessarily large number of workers ”increased the operation’s direct labor and travel costs.”

In the first quarter of this year (January-March), personnel from the inspector general’s office observed Census Bureau operations in four programs. These included “update/leave” (U/L), in which Census workers deliver questionnaires to homes that would not be reached by ordinary mail service; “update/enumerate” (U/E), which counts people in communities where the homes lack ordinary mailing addresses or street names; “enumeration at transitory locations” (ETL), which counts people at places where their residences are potentially mobile, such as recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds, marinas and carnivals; and “service-based enumeration” (SBE), which counts homeless people at places such as homeless shelters, mobile food vans and so-called “targeted non-sheltered outdoor locations” (TNSOL).

The inspector general’s memo said that the Census Bureau had “overestimated” the staff needed for the program to enumerate people at transitory locations. “During the ETL operation,” said the memo, “crew leaders overestimated the number of Census staff needed to enumerate transitory locations, thus increasing the cost of operations.”

The memo also said that there were so many people hired for the “service-based enumeration” that there turned out to be one Census enumerator for every seven homeless people counted, and that the inspector general’s office “observed significant periods of enumerator inactivity at certain locations.”

“In another operation [which the inspector general’s office confirmed to CNSNews.com was the SBE program],” said the memo, “we found many enumerator teams to be unnecessarily large—an average ratio of one enumerator for just seven homeless respondents. We observed significant periods of enumerator inactivity at certain locations, which increased the operation’s direct labor and travel costs.”

As a result of these problems, the inspector general suggested that the Census bureau should “reevaluate” frontloading—that is, the practice of hiring more enumerators than necessary to cover anticipated turnover. “Census should reevaluate its practice of frontloading and develop a better process to estimate workload and cost assumptions,” said the memo. “A more streamlined enumeration process could reduce training and travel costs and be more responsive to changing economic conditions.”

Ongoing issues about how the Census Bureau counts prisoners: Reform in Illinois?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Perhaps lawmakers in Illinois are now fearing the redistricting process for 2012. Here’s the latest news from Prisoners of the Census, a Census Bureau reform group that MyTwoCensus supports.

Language problems with the 2010 Census may lead to changes in reapportionment

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The following article from the Bellingham Herald is very well written and paints a vivid picture of the problems I have discussed about poor translation services and more:

By DANIEL C. VOCK – Stateline.org

WASHINGTON Upstate New York took in nearly 3,200 refugees during one recent year. That was nearly seven times as many as New York City did. The refugees, more than half of whom came from Myanmar, often need medical care and other social services, but the region does not have the same informational resources – such as translators and English-language classes – as New York City. To help them get those services, upstate hospital officials and other advocates want them recorded in the 2010 census and have helped spread the word to refugees.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s a potentially important one. The refugees from Myanmar who live in the county that includes Rochester, N.Y., speak six different dialects, making the task of finding a translator who understands medical terms even more difficult. When refugees do visit a doctor or the hospital in the Rochester General Medical Group, says Jim Sutton, who heads the group’s office of community medicine, their appointments last longer because of the language barrier and complications related to the fact that refugees often went years without any health care.

An accurate population count could highlight that need to government officials, Sutton says. “Politicians want to represent their constituencies. We have 8,000 refugees in our area. … If a representative saw that much of their population was voting members of their particular area, their ears may perk up a little bit when something comes before them regarding language.”

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This is the kind of small but ultimately significant problem state and local officials are wrestling with all over the country.

Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy knows how important the census count is for his state. He’s done the math himself. The once-a-decade tally is used for many things, but one of the most important is deciding how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House. According to Gillaspy’s latest projections, Minnesota could lose a seat by fewer than 1,000 people.

“It doesn’t get much closer than that,” muses Gillaspy, now involved in his fourth census for Minnesota. Miss just two college dorms – say, by counting them in June instead of April – and there goes the state’s eighth congressional seat.

“It is a huge operation to do a census. It is just an enormous, enormous thing. I don’t think people appreciate the precision which is required,” Gillaspy says. “It’s really at the core of everything that’s done in government and, to a large extent, in the private sector for an entire decade. So it better get done right.”

To the surprise of many, quite a few things are going pretty well this time. Across the country, 72 percent of residents have mailed in their census forms already. That’s roughly the same percentage that turned in their forms in 2000, which ended a three-decade slide in participation. That’s a good sign, according to experts, because the mail-in participation rate is a good indicator of how accurate the final count will be.

Experts credit several changes over the past decade for making it easier to educate residents about the census.

Perhaps most striking is the publicity blitz that promoted the mail-in portion of the census and continues now that 635,000 workers are going door-to-door to check with people who didn’t return their forms. The first big splash in the campaign was a much-maligned Super Bowl ad, but it was only the beginning. By the time the campaign is over, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to spend a record $133 million on advertising in 28 languages.

Behind the scenes, the federal government placed a greater emphasis on partnering with local organizations to get the message out. State and local governments have used a similar approach. Stacey Cumberbach, the head of New York City’s 2010 census office, says working with trusted leaders in different communities and across city government has helped the city boost its mail-in rates from 57 percent a decade ago to 60 percent this year.

Working with the city’s agency for public and subsidized housing helped get the message to one out of 12 New Yorkers, she says. Immigrants make up more than one-third of the city’s population, but that population in itself is very diverse. That’s why, Cumberbach says, it was so important for the city to rely on community leaders to promote the census.

In Minnesota, Gillaspy took advantage of a few other opportunities offered for the first time by the Census Bureau. In February, the state compared the numbers of addresses it had on its list for every block against the census’ count. Where there were big differences, the state asked the Census Bureau to double check its list of addresses.

Later this summer, Minnesota officials plan to compare state data for the capacity of group quarters – including prisons, nursing homes, halfway homes and dormitories – against the population count the census came up with in those facilities. If there’s a large difference, the Census Bureau will go back to recount the population there.

“It’s up to each individual state to volunteer to do this,” Gillaspy says. “I’m not aware that all states are doing this, but we certainly are.”

Gillaspy says Minnesota’s efforts during this cycle are more involved than they were a decade ago and far exceed the state outreach during the 1980 and 1990 headcounts. The Legislature approved funding for a three-year effort, and it can pay for itself by successfully counting even a relatively small number of people, he says.

Still, Kim Brace, the head of the consulting firm Election Data Services, is worried that some states have cut back on their outreach efforts to save money during this recession. He predicts, for example, that California will suffer because it couldn’t afford to better promote the census.

On the other hand, Brace says, technology has improved the amount of interim census data available to the public during the count.

“Ten years ago, we were lucky to have just to have an overall county-level count of the response rate at this time,” he says. “Now we’ve got it at the (census) tract level. That’s phenomenal.” Practically speaking, Brace says, that lets elected officials or community leaders check with the Census Bureau’s online maps to determine which areas are falling behind and respond immediately.

People who didn’t turn in their forms are less likely to answer the door when a Census worker comes knocking, explains New York City’s Cumberbach. And even if they do talk, she says, they may not provide accurate information.

In New York City, six people may share a one-bedroom apartment. Or a family of immigrants may include some people who are in the country legally and some who are not. “It’s almost like everyone has something in their home that they don’t want to share or that they’re nervous about,” Cumberbach says.

Neighborhoods with the lowest mail-in participation rates tend to have more blacks and more Hispanics than areas that turned in a bigger share of their forms, according to an analysis by the City University of New York. The 5 percent of neighborhoods with the lowest response rates were, on average, 54-percent minority. The rest of the country as a whole is 30-percent minority.

When it comes to states, many of those most in jeopardy of losing U.S. House seats – a number of them clustered around the Great Lakes – had some of the best response rates in the country. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia topped the charts.

This is especially important because the housing crisis has slowed the population growth of many Sun Belt states, and because many of those states also have below-average census response rates. Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Georgia all were expected to gain seats, but each had 70 percent or lower mail-in participation rates.

An inaccurate headcount can cost communities more than just political clout. A study by a census oversight board following the 2000 count said the country’s 58 largest counties would lose out on a combined $3.6 billion over the decade in funds distributed by population formula, more than $2,900 per person.

“Every person missed,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, “is that much less federal resources for everything from schools and medical services to resources to pave the streets.”

Is the Census Bureau inflating participation rates in Florida?

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

The following story from keysnet.com makes us wonder if participation rates from the Census Bureau are truly accurate (or inflated as the story suggests). If any statisticians or Census Bureau officials reading this want to chime in, please do so in the comments section.

Census sending enumerators back to the Keys

By RYAN McCARTHY

It’s safe to say U.S. Census Bureau officials and Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers disagree on just how many Keys residents have been counted for the 2010 tally.

Census officials have been touting return rates as high as 97.5 percent in the Keys, which raised Carruthers’ — and others’ — suspicion. She put out a call on Thursday asking those not counted to contact her office.

That 97.5 percent figure appears to be inflated.

“We have an amazing number of people calling saying they haven’t been counted. Some say their whole neighborhood; some say [a census taker] left a note on their door and never came back,” Carruthers said.

She’d heard enough, and asked Marilyn Stephens, Census Bureau partnership specialist for South Florida, to address the County Commission this Wednesday in Key Largo.

“Maybe this will light a fire under them and they’ll go back out and count some of these,” Carruthers said.

Similarly high return rates — 87 percent countywide and 99 percent in Key West — were reported in April, but it was later determined that the Census Bureau was pulling those numbers from two select groups of people: Military personnel and the handful of Monroe residents who live on the mainland.

Carruthers has been trumpeting the importance of the census since well before it started on March 22. Return rates in Monroe County during the 2000 census were poor, which affected the amount of state and federal grant dollars the Keys received.

Returns were so poor, in fact, that the Census Bureau implemented a hand enumeration program in the Keys. It hired hundreds of workers from the Keys and South Florida to visit residents door to door. In other areas of the country — and at Keys military bases and on mainland Monroe — people were mailed surveys and asked to fill them out and return them.

Census Bureau spokeswoman Helga Silva said she received word Friday that census workers will canvass the Keys one last time this weekend.

“Twenty-five to 30 enumerators will go down to the Keys this weekend to finish up the operation that stands at around 98 percent. They’re looking at around 100 houses,” Silva said.

Silva said anyone still not counted after this weekend can contact the Census Bureau office in Homestead at (305) 508-9300.

Wednesday’s commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the Murray E. Nelson Government & Cultural Center. Stephens is scheduled to speak at 2:45 p.m.

Census Bureau Press Release: Door-to-Door Visits Begin

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Census Takers to Follow Up with About 48 Million Households Nationwide

WASHINGTON, April 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — About 635,000 2010 Census takers across the nation begin going door to door tomorrow to follow up with households that either didn’t mail back their form or didn’t receive one. An estimated 48 million addresses will be visited through July 10.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090226/CENSUSLOGO)

“America’s had a very successful first half of the 2010 Census, where more than 72 percent of the nation’s households mailed back their census forms,” U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said. “But achieving a complete and accurate census requires us to now go door to door to count all the remaining households we’ve not heard back from.”

If a 2010 Census worker knocks on your door, here are some ways to verify that person is a legitimate census taker:

  • The census taker must present an ID badge that contains a Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date.  The census taker may also be carrying a black canvass bag with a Census Bureau logo.
  • The census taker will provide you with supervisor contact information and/or the local census office phone number for verification, if asked.
  • The census taker will only ask you the questions that appear on the 2010 Census form.
  • Michael Steele and the GOP – Are you kidding me? Republicans continue ‘census mailings’ despite law

    Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

    Michael Steele and the national GOP are a bunch of ignorant individuals who are completely out of touch with their party’s mainstream. Even after Congress showed strong bipartisan support for a measure to ban deceptive census mailings (now a law signed by President Obama), these idiots continue to act illegally — and they are openly defending their actions. They should be prosecuted. Eric Holder and the Justice Department, I hope you’re reading this. H/t to Ed O’Keefe for the following…and I hope that Jon Stewart creates a segment mocking this BS on The Daily Show in the near future:

    The Republican National Committee believes that a new round of mailings which use the word “Census” does not violate a new law banning such deliveries.

    Democrats and news organizations in Nebraska, Utah and Washington state have called out the new Republican mailings as illegal and detrimental to 2010 Census efforts.

    The mailings appear to violate a law signed by President Obama on April 7 that passed with bipartisan support in both chambers. The law requires mailings with an envelope marked “Census” to state clearly the sender’s return address and provide a disclaimer that the mailing is not from the federal government.

    But the RNC will keep sending such mailings regardless of the new law, according to committee spokesman Doug Heye.

    “In reviewing the new law, our legal department determined such mailings are not covered. Therefore, they will continue,” Heye said in an e-mail. He would not elaborate on the legal determination.

    Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who authored the bill, sounded incensed.

    “What is with these guys?” she said in a statement. “Congress passes a law in record time, with unanimous bipartisan support in both houses, to reduce confusion about the real Census. But there they go again, trying to make a partisan buck on the Census!”

    The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has been asked by Nebraska Democrats to weigh in on the matter. Under the old law, postal inspectors deemed such mailings legal.

    MyTwoCensus Editorial: My Mad Men moment…What 2010 Census ads should have said…

    Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

    I’m a few years behind the rest of the world as I only recently started watching Mad Men, the hit TV series about the world of advertising. The show got me thinking about many things related to the 2010 Census ad campaign. Rather than advertising with “Portrait of America” themes, Christopher Guest nonsense, and other ads that seem to be unclear, unpointed, and uninteresting flops. Why not go straight to the numbers? The simple ad campaign I would have created for the Census Bureau would have gone as follows:

    Cost to mail back your census form: 42 cents.

    Cost to send a Census Bureau employee to your house if you fail to return your form: $57.

    Amount of federal money at stake if you aren’t counted: $1,333.*

    Total amount of available funding that you are community should get its fair share of: $400 BILLION.

    2010 Census – Mail it back and Participate.

    (Back in February, Census Bureau Communications Director Steve Jost told readers of this blog — see the comments section — that the Census Bureau and Draftfcb were in the process of creating a 2010 Census ad competition for the public to compete in…clearly that never happened!)

    *The Census Bureau uses the term $400 billion for the total amount of money at stake. $400 billion divided by 300 milli0n people (an approximation of America’s population) is $1,333 per person. Some estimates determine that it is about $3,000 per person missed. Shelley Lowe of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office said of the per person figure, “We don’t calculate that, but other organizations have attempted to.”

    Maryland enacts law to count incarcerated people at their home addresses

    Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

    The following comes from PrisonersOfTheCensus.org:

    April 13, 2010 – Today, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill ensuring that incarcerated persons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new state and local legislative districts are drawn in Maryland.

    The U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location. When state and local government bodies use Census counts to draw legislative districts, they unintentionally enhance the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of all other districts in the state. Maryland is the first state to pledge to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people and correct the data state-wide.

    The new law will help Maryland correct past distortions in representation caused by counting incarcerated persons as residents of prisons, such as the following:

    • 18% of the population currently credited to House of Delegates District 2B (near Hagerstown) is actually incarcerated people from other parts of the state. In effect, by using uncorrected Census data to draw legislative districts, the legislature granted every group of 82 residents in this districts as much political influence as 100 residents of every other district.
    • In Somerset County, a large prison is 64% of the 1st County Commission District, giving each resident in that district 2.7 times as much influence as residents in other districts. Even more troubling is that by including the prison population as “residents” in county districts, the county has been unable to draw an effective majority-African American district and has had no African-American elected to county government, despite settlement of a vote dilution lawsuit in the 1980s.

    The problem is national as well. One legislative district in New York includes 7% prisoners; a legislative district in Texas includes 12% prisoners; and 15% of one Montana district are prisoners imported from other parts of the state. Indeed, the 2010 Census will find five times as many people in prison as it did just three decades ago. To address this problem, eight other states have similar bills pending in the current session or being prepared for reintroduction in the next legislative session: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

    “The Maryland legislature has taken a much-needed step to ensure fairness in redistricting and reflect incarcerated populations in a more accurate way. Maryland’s action should pave the way for other states to end the distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons in the wrong place,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

    “Maryland’s ‘No Representation without Population’ Act will bring the state’s redistricting practices in line with the rules Maryland uses for determining legal residence of incarcerated persons for other purposes. We applaud this common-sense solution to a growing problem of fairness in representation,” said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

    The legislation, passed as H.B. 496 and S.B.400, applies only to redistricting and would not affect federal funding distributions.

    The Prison Policy Initiative and Demos have a national project to end prison-based gerrymandering, seeking to change how the U.S. Census counts incarcerated people and how states and local governments use prison counts when drawing districts. The two groups provided technical assistance to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland who led this effort.

    In addition, Mr. Wagner and Ms. Wright both testified in support of Maryland’s new law at legislative hearings this spring. Their testimony pointed out that HB496/SB400 has precedent in the practice of more than 100 rural counties around the country that currently revise the Census Bureau’s prison counts for internal districting purposes, and in the laws of states such as Kansas that adjust the Census for other purposes.

    PPI and Demos long have advocated for the Census Bureau to change its practices so that incarcerated persons would be counted at their home residences on a nationwide basis. While it is too late for that change to be made for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau’s recent decision to accelerate the release of its prison count data so that states can more readily identify prison populations in the Census will be helpful to states such as Maryland that wish to make their own adjustments.

    PPI and Demos applaud the lead sponsors of the legislation, Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk and Senator Catherine Pugh, who deserve special credit for their leadership on this issue. Although both represent legislative districts that contain large prison populations currently counted as part of their districts, both recognized that the issue of fairness and accuracy in statewide redistricting should take precedence over individual concerns. PPI and Demos are also encouraged by the bi-partisan support for the bill including that of Republican Senators J. Lowell Stoltzfus and Donald F. Munson.

    Rep. McHenry promotes 2010 Census for the GOP

    Thursday, April 8th, 2010

    Ranking Republican on the House of Reps. Committee for the 2010 Census Patrick McHenry has rightfully been criticizing members of his own party in recent weeks for their attempts to thwart progress on the decennial headcount. The St. Petersburg Times’ PoliFact blog has looked into McHenry’s claims and fact-checked them:

    By Robert Farley

    By now, most people have gotten the 2010 census in the mail. And for the first time, the U.S. Census has provided a way for the public to keep track of return rates — by state, city and zip codes.

    With billions of federal dollars and political leverage at stake, most politicians are urging all residents to participate and be counted.

    This year, however, some Republican leaders have raised questions about whether the census’s questions expand too far beyond the intent of the Constitution, and whether the government can be trusted to keep personal information private.

    That has Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC., worried. As the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees the census, he’s concerned that skepticism about the census being fanned by “blatant misinformation” coming from “otherwise well-meaning conservatives” within his own party (Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, have been the most vocal census critics) will discourage Republicans from fully filling out their forms. And that’s bad for Republicans, McHenry said.

    “Few things will make Nancy Pelosi happier than large numbers of conservatives failing to respond to the census,” McHenry wrote in an op-ed for the conservative Red State. “If we do not respond, we will not be counted, and if we are not counted, then we effectively will not exist. That would reduce conservatives’ power in elections, allow Democrats to draw more favorable congressional boundaries and help put more tax-hiking politicians in office.”

    We took a look at several of McHenry’s claims about the census in the Red State article, as well as in a press release he issued.

    The first relates to the very premise guiding McHenry’s concerns, that “Early census returns are showing that conservatives have been measurably less likely than liberals to return their census forms.” We found that claim was based on the thinnest of underpinnings, and is largely unsupported. It earned a False rating.

    Next, we looked at two claims that seek to allay Republican fears that the census is too prying and cumbersome.

    The first is that “the most private question on this year’s form asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census conducted under then-President George Washington.” We examined the census questionnaires all the way back to 1790, and found that they provide interesting insight into changing attitudes about race over the course of U.S. history. While every census dealt with race issues, it hasn’t always been a matter of “check your race here.” In the first census in 1790, for example, the census asked about the number of free white males and females; the number of “other free persons” and the number of slaves. We rated this one Mostly True.

    We also looked at McHenry’s claim that, “This census is also the shortest and least intrusive count in modern history.” The 2010 census has just 10 questions. That’s two more than the short form in 2000, but in 2000, one out of six households would get a long form, which had 53 questions. There is no short form this year — everyone gets the 10-question version. So it’s arguable which of those is shorter. No other census in modern history comes close to being as short as 10 questions. And so we rated this one Mostly True.

    As a bonus, we draw your attention to one more census claim, courtesy of our friends at PolitiFact Texas. It’s a claim from U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, that a census audit found more than 370,000 Texans were missed by the 2000 census, costing $1 billion in federal aid. They found that Reyes’ claim relies on an outdated report based on numbers the Census Bureau has said were flawed. It earned our worst rating, Pants on Fire!

    The Reno Gazette-Journal Fact Checks the Census Bureau…

    Monday, April 5th, 2010

    A nice piece from Nevada:

    Fact checker: Census value rounded up — way up

    By Kelly Scott

    Last week, a news release from Nevada Census 2010 claimed that “for every resident counted, Nevada stands to receive nearly $10,000 each year of our fair share of federal funding during the next decade.”

    Being that Thursday was the once-in-a-decade census day, I decided to see how that number actually breaks down.

    Reno Gazette-Journal articles have reported that the state gets “more than $900 a year per person in federal tax dollars” each year for the next decade based on census answers.

    Background

    The census is used to calculate the numbers for a great deal of federal funding and other things. Among the types of programs based on census results are the Washoe County School District’s free lunch program, transportation funding and money to help senior citizens. Census numbers are used to divvy up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Analysis of the numbers

    My first thought was that there was a rounding error in the numbers. Maybe the news release just rounded up?

    Well, here’s how it breaks down according to our data guru Mark Robison:

    Nevada gets $917 a year per person in federal funds because of census data. That adds up to $9,170 per person over 10 years, not $10,000 over a single year. Robison said he thinks the official state news release we received was likely an honest mistake because other promotional materials have used $10,000 per decade as the amount of additional funding the state stands to receive per person. But that still rounds up $9,170 to $10,000, when customary rounding would normally lower the figure to $9,000.

    To find the source of the funds-per-resident claim, Robison dug into a SAGE Commission report sent to Gov. Jim Gibbons last year that urged the state to actually spend money on trying to get people to participate in the census because the state stood to gain more than what it likely would spend.

    Here’s an excerpt from the report: “According to the Census Bureau, over $3 trillion in funding is allocated nationwide based on census figures. In 2000, the Legislative Counsel Bureau estimated that the state lost $670 per person per year for every Nevadan missed by the 2000 Census. Recently, the Legislative Counsel Bureau, Nevada State Data Center, and Nevada State Demographer came together to update that figure for 2010. Due to the combined effects of inflation and expanded federal investment returning to Nevada, their collective estimate is that Nevada will now lose $917 per person per year for every Nevadan missed in the 2010 Census.”

    For the rest of the article click HERE.

    Two interesting articles from Maryland and Texas about prisoners and the 2010 Census…

    Sunday, April 4th, 2010

    From the Herald-Mail in Maryland:

    Bill would alter inmate count for Census

    By ERIN JULIUS

    ANNAPOLIS — Washington County might lose about 6,000 people from its legislative and congressional districts because of a bill that has been passed by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.

    The bill excludes state inmates who were not state residents before their incarceration, and requires that prisoners be counted as residents of their last known address before prison.

    About 6,000 prisoners are housed in the three state prisons south of Hagerstown, a prison spokesman said Friday.

    Local jail populations are not included in the bill.

    All but one of Washington County’s eight local lawmakers voted against the measure.

    The change in how to count the population will be relevant in creating legislative districts for the U.S. Congress, Maryland General Assembly, and county and municipal governing bodies, according to the bill.

    Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, called the bill “a blatant power grab by, predominantly, the Baltimore City delegation.” Changing how prisoners are counted will benefit the Baltimore City and Prince George’s County delegations because most of the prisoners in the state prison system are from the more urban areas of the state.

    Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, also expressed concerns. Two areas Edwards represents — Washington and Allegany counties — would be affected.

    About 3,000 state prisoners are held in two facilities near Cumberland, a prison spokesman said.

    Another 1,503 prisoners are held by the Bureau of Prisons at a federal facility in Cumberland, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Department of Legislative Services that was attached to the bill.

    After the 2000 census, the ideal population for a General Assembly district — with a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error — is 112,691. The ideal congressional district size is 662,061.

    The state legislative districts are expected to increase to about 120,000 following the 2010 census, and the congressional districts are expected to grow to about 722,425, according to the fiscal note.

    Edwards believes the change in population counts — taking 4,000 people out of Allegany County’s population — could push the outlines of his district, District 1, further east into Washington County because Garrett and Allegany counties are not growing, Edwards said.

    However, it’s tough to judge what will happen without the numbers, and with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, things might stay as they are, he said.

    It’s unfair, however, because having prison facilities in its midst puts pressure on a community’s public services, Edwards said. (more…)

    Feud over counting homeless escalates: Census employee fired after taking worries to Rep. Doggett

    Sunday, April 4th, 2010

    The following comes from Statesman.com:

    By Andrea Ball and Suzannah Gonzales

    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

    U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett has stepped into a dispute between Travis County officials and U.S. census leaders over how the area’s homeless population will be counted for the 2010 census.

    For weeks, the groups have been sparring over the times, methods and manpower needed to tally the area’s estimated 4,000 people living in shelters, camps, cars and hotels. But that conflict escalated this week when a census employee called Doggett to say she had been fired for raising concerns about the safety and accuracy of the count.

    On Friday, Doggett called U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves in Washington.

    “Director Groves promised me he would investigate both the employee’s firing and review the best practices to accurately count the homeless,” Doggett said in a statement Friday.

    Census officials across the country plan to count the homeless on three days: On Monday, workers will tally people in shelters. On Tuesday, they’ll count people at mobile food kitchens. And early Wednesday, they’ll head outside to camps and public places such as bridges and sidewalks.

    It’s the Wednesday effort that has caused the most friction locally.

    That count is planned for midnight to 7 a.m., a time local homeless advocates deem unsafe for census employees. Critics also say the census is not providing enough people or allowing enough time to ensure an accurate count.

    “To count thousands of people over seven hours is unrealistic,” said Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant, a member of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. “This isn’t like going door to door.”

    A faulty count would mean losing out on millions of dollars in federal money.

    On Friday, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell sent a letter to a regional census official detailing their concerns about counting the homeless.

    “Your own Census staffers estimate that the homeless population could be undercounted by as much as 40%,” the letter states. “This would mean 1,000 or more homeless residents would not be counted in Travis County, resulting in the loss of more than $15,000,000 to our community.”

    Jeff Behler, deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the late-night hours were determined “because, in the research that was done by our staff, it was determined that would be the best time in which that population would be the least transient.”

    Local leaders proposed holding an additional daytime event Thursday at the Palmer Events Center with food, music and giveaways for those who came to fill out the census forms. Census leaders said no, Elfant said.

    “There appears to be very little wiggle room for communities that want to try innovative things,” Elfant said. “It’s been frustrating.”

    Homeless advocates also worry that census takers could get hurt wandering into the greenbelts and wooded areas that late at night. David Gomez, who works with the homeless for Austin Travis County Integral Care, said homeless people could be sleeping, drunk, high on drugs or otherwise impaired.

    In a memo obtained by the American-Statesman, U.S. Census Bureau employee Lisa Bayliff agreed.

    “There are camps that have barbed wire stretched about 3-4 inches from the ground to trip intruders from easy access,” she wrote. “There are camps that are known meth labs; they have signs posted around the perimeter to warn people to go away … The timing of the operation is flawed and is willingly placing all Census employees at peril.”

    Census takers, who will be wearing reflective vests and carrying flashlights, have been told not to wake up sleeping people, Behler said. They will travel in groups, try not to startle people and clearly communicate their intent, Behler said.

    Earlier this month, Bayliff took her concerns to the Austin congressman, Doggett spokeswoman Sarah Dohl said.

    But this week, Bayliff contacted the office to say she had been fired for speaking to Doggett, Dohl said. That prompted Doggett to call Grove.

    Bayliff declined to comment. Jenna Steormann Arnold, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau in Central Texas, said she could not talk about specifics of the case.

    “Yes, she no longer works for the Census Bureau, but since it is a personnel issue that deals with confidential information, we cannot discuss it,” she said.