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.

Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Breaking News: Firing people from New York and hiring people from Denver, Colorado to replace them…

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

In the past week, many New York City Census Bureau employees have been terminated. MyTwoCensus.com has received substantial evidence from two individuals who have alerted us that since the Denver, Colorado region was ahead of schedule, they have since flown workers to New York, put them at hotels, paid them per diems, and provided meals for them. Yes, you are reading this correctly. A city of 8 million people does not have enough competence to complete a task, so the Census Bureau has recruited folks from Denver to help them get the job done. If this isn’t inefficiency, what is? More details coming ASAP.

Note: If you know more about this, please get in touch with me or leave a note in the comments section with details. Thanks!

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.”

Three Reasons Why New York City May Be Undercounted…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The following tidbit comes to us from Kelly Virella of CityLimits.org:

Off-the-Books Housing
Nearly 40 percent of the new housing created in NYC from 1990 to 2005 years is illegal, much of it in residential basements and attics. The Census Bureau found a lot of those residents—if not most of them—and sent them the forms, but many families probably never received them. “There are many households where the landlord sorts the mail,” says Stacey Cumberbatch, the city’s 2010 Census coordinator. “If I get a form for my illegal tenants, I may not give it to them, wondering how anyone knows they live in the basement.”

Off-the-Books Tenants
Some of New York’s public housing residents and voucher holders don’t want the New York City Housing Authority to know that a cousin, friend or partner lives with them, because telling the truth would jeopardize their leases or vouchers. They fear—despite NYCHA assurances to the contrary—that reporting their household headcount will create a paper trail leading to their eviction. “We need to get the message out that it’s safe to participate in this activity,” says Tony Farthing, director of the Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office. “No one will take your apartment away from you.”

Off-the-Books Work
An estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York City, and fear—despite the Census Bureau’s denials—their participation in the census will lead to their deportation.

Video from road tour launch

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Did you miss the kick off events of the 2010 Census road tour on Monday? If so, you can catch a short clip from the tour’s launch in New York City:

The road tour vehicles will be posting updates and event locations on Twitter. We’ve compiled a Twitter list with the vehicles’ updates. View it here.

Why the 2010 Census matters

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Sacramento Bee editorial writer Pia Lopez has a piece today responding to SacBee commenters and politicians like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) who want to boycott the census.

It’s a good read, and a reminder that the Census is about more than funding and congressional representation. Here’s Lopez’s central argument (check out the full piece here):

The U.S. census provides an essential portrait of who we are as a people and how we live – from 1790 to the present.

The census gives us a person-by-person, family-by-family, street-by-street, community-by-community, state-by-state set of details about Americans. It is not just “America by the Numbers” – an impersonal compendium of population numbers for a statistical atlas.

Lopez used census information to look into her own family history — and what she found is pretty interesting. The 1900 Census reveals that her great-grandfather was the only boarder on a New York City block of Swedish, Irish and German immigrants. Most could speak English, read and write, but not everyone could.

The census, she writes, gives us details about how Americans lived — and protects privacy because the page-by-page details aren’t disclosed until 72 years later. Lopez encourages those who receive the in-depth American Community Survey to willingly fill it out:

If you get that longer questionnaire, which delves into 40 topic areas – including such things as income, citizenship, disability, plumbing and heating in the house, telephone service, family relationships and educational attainment – just remember that the information won’t be released until 2082. And when it is, it will provide indispensable information about technological change, standard of living and the work people do.

In the short-term, the 2010 Census is crucial for fairly appropriating funds and ensuring just representation in Congress. But for future historians and regular people who want to know their family’s past, it provides a comprehensive yet specific look at American society. The story of Lopez’s great-grandfather is just one of the millions that show the value of the census.

Census road tour updates: Twitter feeds and tour stops

Monday, January 4th, 2010

The 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour is launching in New York City today, and we have a few updates on the tour:

There will be one national vehicle and 13 smaller regional vehicles. The national vehicle, which will be unveiled today in Times Square, is a 46-foot gooseneck trailer towed by a dual axle, quad-cab pick-up truck. It’s expected to visit high-profile events nationwide.

The regional vehicles are sprinter cargo vans towing 14-foot bumper pull trailers. They’ll be at a variety of events in their areas.

The vehicles, which the Census Bureau has named, are equipped with GPS technology to track their progress online. Each vehicle also has it’s own Twitter feed.

After the jump, see the full list of regional vehicles, Twitter feeds and locations the national vehicle is slated to visit.

(more…)

Census road tour begins next week

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The Census Bureau’s road tour to promote the 2010 Census will begin next week.

The road tour will kickoff on Jan. 4 in Times Square in New York City.

Thirteen tour vehicles will travel more than 150,000 miles across the country to educate people about the 2010 Census. The tour will stop at more than 800 events, including parades, festivals and the Super Bowl, according to the Census Bureau.

Feature: Real Stories From The Census Bureau (Group Quarters Validation)

Friday, October 16th, 2009

As the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census is well underway, we bring you another detailed account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City (Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send contributions…details on our contact page) whose anonymity we are protecting:

Group Quarters Validation (GQV) is the next major field operation in the 2010 Census. In GQV field employees known as listers go out to places that were pre-identified as other living quarters (OLQs) during the first phase, address canvassing. They classify these (OLQs) by conducting interviews using a 44-page questionnaire. Based on the interview they are prompted to classify these OLQs as group quarters (nursing homes, religious group living quarters, hospitals, hospices, group homes), transient (hotels, motel, single-room occupancy, campgrounds, marinas). They can also classify OLQs as nonresidential, vacant or even housing units.

The handheld computers have been ditched but the hugest obstacle in this operation is paper. I can’t imagine what it is like in places like Kansas where there is probably one census office for the entire state. But in a metropolitan city such as New York moving this much paper through the public transportation system like subway, bus or even in cars is a logistical nightmare.

You have to be a census employee to really fathom the extent of this problem but I will do my best to try to give you an idea. In Group Quarters Validation the lister’s assignment is contained in an address register. The register has the following:
address listing pages: a listing of all the housing units and OLQs in the entire assignment.
questionaires: one or more 44 page questionnaires used to conduct the interview (called survivor questionnaires)
additional labels with barcodes associated with the building (called nonsurvivor labels)
map pouch with maps of the assignment area and blocks in that assignment

The address listing pages contains the OLQs and every single housing unit on the entire block and print on single sided legal size paper. (We were told that the printers can not be defaulted to double sided printing because the Census would be in violation with contract terms they have with the supplier.) The procedural manuals say that the additional housing units are used to help the lister locate the OLQ. But in New York City the listing of each housing unit in each multi-apartment building make our address listing pages tenfold in size. Some blocks in midtown are so huge that the address listing pages have to be divided into multiple binders.

The Census Bureau doesn’t realize this but paper is a hassle. They have to spend money on paper to print it, clerks to shuffle this paper, couriers to move it into the field and back into the office and additional staff to process, check the handwritten work for quality and transcribe it into a computer.
With a hand held computer a crew leader simply transmitted an assignment to a lister and when it was complete the lister could send it back to be approved. Now we are hiring couriers to move these address registers out into the field and back into the office. We also have a team that runs a night shift to examine this paper. Any paperwork not filled in correctly is run back into the field. I can’t imagine what it is like for places in middle America where they have to drive hours. Luckily for us we can get to most places within an hour.

The questionnaire is another problem. Each questionnaire is 44 pages however the lister only asks several introductory questions and it directs him to complete one of the fifteen tabs in the questionnaire. Each interview uses approximately 5-8 pages of the questionnaire. But with a paper questionnaire the lister has to be very careful to follow the skip pattern, ask the correct questions of the respondent and mark appropriate box. He/she also has to write the correct address status codes on the address listing pages and additional labels. The crew leader checks each questionnaire, each label, and each address listing page.

When each questionnaire arrives back into the office a clerk must simply check the questionnaire’s skip pattern. However since the clerk is not trained in field procedures there is an office review checklist for each questionnaire that is four legal size pages. Each non-survivor label is put on a sheet and information written on the label by the lister is transcribed. Then another clerk uses a final office review checklist that is another four pages to check that all the survivor questionnaires and non survivor labels sheets are accounted for and that they match the address listing pages. We then mail out thousands of 44-page questionnaires and non-survivor labels sheets priority overnight Federal Express to the National Processing Center in Jeffersonville Indiana.
With a handheld computer the program would direct you to follow the correct skip pattern and answer the next question depending on how the respondent answers. Then they wouldn’t have to hire clerks to check the skip pattern of each questionnaire and transcribe non survivor labels to label pages. Simply put every piece of paper needs to be accounted for and the task can be daunting. We had staff resign because the older employees simply said that they couldn’t carry these address registers for an entire crew of listers which sometimes are up to fifty pounds. Understandable after all even the young guys in our office have to go out in pairs sometimes to pick up or deliver address registers.

Even time sheets are now paper. Each employee fills out a time sheet for each day worked. He/she gets the a carbon copy and the original goes to payroll.

So between the paper in the address listing pages, the 44 page survivor questionnaires, non-survivor label sheets for the field staff and the checklists the office staff have to run through on each questionnaire, non-survivor label pages and address register in the office you can see the decennial census not only destroys the rain forest, $14 billion can add up pretty darn quickly.

Feature: Real Stories From The Census Bureau

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It’s been a while since we’ve received contributions from real Census Bureau field workers (who obviously need to have their anonymity kept in tact), but as the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census started last week, our inbox has been overflowing. Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send us contributions (details on our contact page). So, here we bring you an account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City:

I worked in the New York City area as a lister during address canvassing and was disappointed with how the operation was conducted. One of my colleagues pointed me to this website some time ago and I felt compelled to share my story. We had alot of the technology glitches in the hand held computers that are widely know by now which included:

* software issues such the program freezes

* transmission problems such as the Sprint cellular network being down and missing assignments and map spots

* hardware issues such as the fingerprint swipe not working

But New York City has its own problems and is a completely different beast in itself. New York City is the most densely populated city in the United States and each neighborhood has its own unique character. The Census Bureau tries to monitor productivity but the very nature of the city makes it very hard to monitor. Since all the units of multi unit apartment buildings are listed separately a lister has to key in every entry. Comparing someone who has an assignment with high rise apartment buildings versus someone who has single family homes is like comparing apples with oranges.

During address canvassing we were instructed to find someone who was knowledgeable about where people live or could live. But locating a knowledgeable respondent was easier said than done. There are small tenement buildings in Chinatown and Harlem brownstones; where there are illegal subdivisions. It is very difficult to gain entry or make contact even if you speak the language. There are also a lot of abandoned construction sites where developers tried to take advantage of the real estate boom after September 11th but found themselves out of money in the current recession.

Luckily for the Census Bureau, the current recession produced a talented pool of very intelligent and highly educated workers. My crew leader was knowledgable and a great leader. From the very beginning he was committed to doing things right. He said that he was continuously told a proper address canvassing operation would be the cornerstone of a successful enumeration. He was thorough and all the work was quality checked by one of the other listers or his assistant. When we couldn’t gain access to a building, he encouraged us to try again and gave us additional work to keep us productive. In the end we had all these partially complete assignments where we had one or buildings we either couldn’t get into or make contact with anyone. However the office was less than empathetic to our thoroughness. Our crew leader told us that Assistant Manager of Field Operations,field operations supervisors (FOS) and crew leaders in other districts would belittle those who were behind. They would constantly say things like ”John’s district is 40% complete why aren’t you 40% complete?” We were told that if we couldn’t gain access to a building after two visits we had to accept what was in the HHC as correct. Many of us were tempted to falsify work and accept what was in the HHC as correct but my crew leader and FOS were adamant about not doing that. One of the other listers found an entire building with over 200 single illegally divided rooms. The HHC had less than 10 units listed in it. If they accepted was in the HHC as true they would of missed over 200 housing units.

At the beginning of the fouth week, my crew leader and several others were written up for being unproductive because they weren’t working fast enough to complete their assignments. They asked the Field Operations Supervisor to approve the writeups. One of the Field Operations Supervisors refused to sign the writeups and they wrote him up also for being insubordinate.

During address canvassing we were to document any additions, or deletes to the address list on an INFO-COMM which is a carbon copy paper. They said that they were hiring clerks to reconcile INFO-COMMs between the production and quality control. The sheer volume of having to go through 2000 pieces of paper is mind boggling. Originally, the plan was to use the INFO-COMMs to help the quality control listers, but they wanted to keep the operation independent so quality control wrote an additional INFO-COMM. All told we wrote out over 2000 INFO-COMMs.

The handheld computer also had glitches. They switched crew leaders in districts that weren’t working fast enough and sometimes just reassigned work. When listers saw their timesheets weren’t approved they submitted additional timesheets electronically. The new crew leader approved it and then they accused these listers of intentionally trying to milk the government clock. They accused half of an entire crew of listers of clocking overtime.

Nonetheless with all the problems most of the listers worked quickly and breezed through their assignments. By the end of the first week we were about 25% done but they decided to train another 100 listers, by the end of the second week we were halfway done and some crews were almost done but they trained another group of listers. Some of these listers were trained and received no field work because there was none. All told we trained over 100 listers who received less days of work than the four and half days worth of training they received.

The thing to realize is that this was a poorly planned operation from the very beginning. The Census Bureau will waste money for government contracts on hand held computers that are shoddy and unreliable and training staff for which there is no work. But they will try to cut corners when it comes to their mission of counting each person accurately. In order to try to save money and finish ahead of other regions they used intimidation and the threatening of employees. I’m glad that Field Operations Supervisor stood up to the higher ups because like my crew leader said to me…they’re just of bullies.

When the address canvassing operation finished up it was alleged that some of the crew leaders and field operations supervisors told their listers since there was no regard to quality that they could skip making contact even going as far as not conducting field work and enter the units at home. There is no way that listers who were reassigned work magically gained access to buildings people couldn’t access for weeks unless they accepted what was in the HHC as true. The crew leaders and field supervisors who finished first were rewarded with additional work. Those who finished last were sometimes “written up” as unproductive and the office terminated their employment.

Luckily this story has a happy ending. My crew leader didn’t fire any of us for clocking overtime. What they found was that the payroll system was mistakenly rewarding people overtime if they worked over eight hours during a work day even though they were below forty hours in a week. Someone was able to view the timesheet submissions in the office and prove all these listers weren’t clocking overtime. It was rumored that someone who discovered this was the same FOS who refused to sign the writeups.

As for thousands of INFO-COMMs they are sitting in the office file cabinets gathering dust maybe someday someone will go through them. I highly doubt it given the sheer magnitude. I think my crew leader was incredible. And from what I heard from some of the listers that met him their Field Operations Supervisor was even better. I never got the chance to see him but I am honored to have worked with someone who is willing to jeopardize his job for what was morally right. I am surprised I received a phone call the other day to work in the next operation Group Quarters Validation. But I’m pretty sure that my crew leader or FOS won’t be returning anytime soon.