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 ‘participation rates’

Press Release: Census Bureau to Announce Final 2010 Census Mail Participation Rates

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

What: As the U.S. Census Bureau prepares for the door-to-door follow-up phase of the 2010 Census, Director Robert Groves will announce how well America responded by mail to the once-a-decade census. Groves will discuss how the mail participation rates compare geographically as well as by demographic characteristics, such as home ownership, income and language spoken.

When: Wednesday, April 28, 1 – 2 p.m. (EDT)

Who: Robert M. Groves, director, U.S. Census Bureau

Where: National Press Club, 13th floor

Holeman Lounge

529 14th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20045

Members of the media may also participate by telephone. (Please dial-in early to allow time for the operator to place you in the call.)

Dial-in number: 888-603-8938

Passcode: 2010 CENSUS

Fact Check: Is the mail participation rate a valid tool for tracking responses? Not until the following questions are answered.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

On Friday, the Commerce Department released a statement, “U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today congratulated the nation for its strong participation in the 2010 Census to date, as the Census Bureau released the latest mail participation data showing that 72 percent of U.S. households have mailed back their 2010 Census forms so far — the same rate the nation achieved at the end of the mail-back period during the 2000 Census.”

But what validity does this have? None, until the Census Bureau answers the following essential questions:

What data are used to adjust the mail response rates?  Who in the Postal Service supplies these data? To meet what specifications?  What distinguishes between unoccupied housing and Census address list errors? At what level of geographic detail?  The Census Bureau has stated the “participation rate” is “fairer”?  How is fairness defined?   Does the Postal service guarantee data consistency between and among all postal delivery service areas of the country? Or, are there big differences in what is returned to Census as undeliverable based on the quality of the address list used by the Census Bureau in each postal service area ? How does the Postal service distinguish between a bad address from the Census Bureau and a vacant house?  How does any of this get calculated in dense urban areas…..especially given the statement from the Census Bureau about “fairness” (For example, it is well known that delivery methods in multi-unit urban dwellings differ dramatically from suburban, single family residences — how does the proclaimed Census 2010 ”fairness” doctrine adjust for this)? When will the mail return rates for 2010 be calculated and how will this process differ from 2000?

D’Vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center (who covered the 2000 Census for the Washington Post) has tried to explain this process:

For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau will use a new real-time metric, called the “mail participation rate,” to report the share of U.S. households-by state, city, county and neighborhood-that send back their completed forms. Why is this important?

The Census Bureau hopes to count every American in the coming months, but it has a hefty financial incentive to count them quickly. Census forms arrive in most home mailboxes next week. If a household sends back its postage-paid census form, the government spends less than 50 cents in mailing costs. If the completed form does not arrive back by late April, the Census Bureau will send an enumerator to knock on the non-respondent’s door, which costs $57.

As part of its promotional campaign to encourage households to return their forms fast, the Census Bureau plans to release mail participation rates down to the neighborhood level each weekday, from March 22 to April 26. Knowing where the problems are could help the bureau and its partner organizations—such as local governments and community groups—steer their census-encouragement efforts to the areas that could benefit most.

The 2010 mail participation rates will be displayed daily on a recently launched Census Bureau mapping tool, where users already can see 2000 data for states, counties, cities and census tracts (neighborhood-level units of about 4,000 people). For the Bureau’s publicity campaign, the mail participation rate replaces the “mail response rate” used in the 2000 Census because, for reasons described below, officials believe the new measure will give a truer picture in places with large numbers of foreclosed and vacant homes.

Three Different Mailback Rates

The mail response rate, the mail participation rate and a third measure of response, the “mail return rate,” are calculated for areas where household residents are asked to mail back forms that were mailed to their homes or dropped off by a census worker. These areas include almost all of the nation’s more than 130 million households.

The mail response rate is an unrefined measure —the percent of forms sent to households in these mailback areas that are returned to the Census Bureau. It is a preliminary measure that Census officials say somewhat understates participation, though, because many forms sent out by the Bureau cannot be mailed back — for example, those sent to vacant housing units and those where census forms could not be delivered, such as non-existent or non-residential addresses. In 2000, the final national mail response rate was 67%. (The initial mail response rate, over the first few weeks, was 65%.)

The mail participation rate is a refined version of the mail response rate–the percent of forms sent to households in these mailback areas that are returned to the Census Bureau,  after removing from the denominator addresses where census forms are determined by the U.S. Postal Service to be “undeliverable as addressed.” Nationally, the final census mail participation rate was 72% in 2000.

The mail participation rate is intended to exclude vacant and foreclosed homes, which have grown in number as a result of the national economic downturn. The mail participation rate also may provide an improved real-time measure of participation for areas with large numbers of seasonal homes that are unoccupied on Census Day, April 1.

However, the new metric will not eliminate all sources of error. For example, if the owner of a vacant or seasonal home has a friend who picks up the mail, the form may not be returned as undeliverable. Some forms may be sent to home addresses whose occupants get their mail from postal boxes, and those forms may be returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable even though the home is occupied. These kinds of addresses will be on the Census Bureau’s to-do list, however, and census-takers would make sure they are properly accounted for during follow-up visits, according to Census Bureau officials.

The mail return rate, the most precise measure of census participation, is the number of households returning a questionnaire from mailback areas mail divided by the number of occupied housing units that received questionnaires in those areas. It cannot be calculated until the end of the census counting process. At that point, officials will use data from census-takers’ follow-up visits and other sources to total the number of occupied home addresses in areas where residents mail back their forms. Once addresses are excluded from the denominator—mainly for being unoccupied, non-residential or non-existent—the rate will rise. In 2000, the mail return rate was 78%.

Transcript from Tuesday’s Press conference…

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Note my questions near the bottom of the first page, and further note how they weren’t clearly answered…(My questions discussed allegations made by Census Bureau employees about QACs…)

STEPHEN BUCKNER: Good morning, everyone. I’m with the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’d like to welcome everybody joining us on the telephone today, and also here at the National Press Club. Today, Dr. Groves, the Director of the Census Bureau, is going to be talking about mailing back your form. We have five days left to get your form back in the mail. He’s also going to be providing a brief overview of operations since our last operational press briefing on the 22nd of March where we launched the Take Ten Program, challenging local areas to mail back your form and beat your participation rate from the 2000 census. We’re off to a good start, and Dr. Groves will touch base on that.

In your press kit, you’ll see a variety of materials on the topics of today’s operational press briefing. Online, they’re also available under the news conference page for those listening and online. We will have a Q&A session following the Director’s comments, and we’ll try to alternate between the telephone and those here in the room. With that, I will give you Dr. Robert Groves. Thank you.

DR. ROBERT GROVES: Great, thank you, Stephen. Thanks a lot for coming today. This is an operational update, but really the headline of today’s briefing is that we have five days left for the over 120 million households around the country to mail back their form. And by that we mean if you get your form in the mail by April 16th, this Friday, there’s a much, much, much lower probability that anyone will come to your door to do follow-up work in the later phases of the census.

Today, this week, we begin a week of transitions. The transition is moving from this massive phase that we call the mail out/mail back phase where people fill out their census by mail, to one where we begin to hire a large number of people who will go out throughout the country, knocking on doors of houses and taking the questionnaire information in a personal interview.

I want to end with remarks on that, but I want to begin, really, by doing a quick update of recent operations. And in a word, things are going quite well. I guess that’s two words, quite well. Let me run through the things we’ve done. We have finished three operations that are notable that are complicated and are now in the hopper. The update leave operation, by that we mean in areas where postal delivery is not reliable, where many people have postal boxes, and also in those areas where in the, say for example the gulf coast where the housing unit stock is actually changing quite rapidly, we drop off questionnaires. We completed that on April 2nd, the dropped off questionnaires are being mailed back now at great rates. This operation is complete, it was on schedule and under budget.

We also finished, today we will finish, a count of people living in transitory locations. By that we mean RV parks, campgrounds, hotels, motels, marinas, circuses, carnivals throughout the country. We’ve completed that work on schedule, we’re happy to say. And then in a complicated operation called service based enumeration. We reached out and counted people who are affected by various types of homelessness. We counted people in shelters, soup kitchens, at regular stops of mobile food vans, outdoor locations and a variety of other places, about 65,000 locations throughout the country. This, as you might imagine, is a complicated one and we’re happy that we did that on time and with safety, relative safety, of all our enumerators and the people counted.

We had a problem in the New York/Boston area. You might remember there were torrential rains around the time we were doing this. We had to postpone one day to finish that work there.

Then I want to note two operations that we’re right in the middle of because they’re relevant to some folks who haven’t received forms because we do the enumeration in different ways. We don’t mail out forms to different areas. Ongoing right now is an operation called Update Enumerate. By that, we mean we go out with census takers and house by house do interviews with people in those areas. These are areas like the remote parts of Maine, certainly parts of Alaska, American Indian reservations, disproportionately, a lot of areas with seasonal housing. And the settlements called colonias on the border of Texas and Mexico are handled this way. It’s about 1.4 million households that we’ll visit in this way. We’re about 38 percent through with that operation. We’re way ahead of schedule on that, so that’s going well.

And then finally group quarters, another category of folks who don’t receive forms in the mail. These are areas that are like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, prisons, dormitories, barracks, and so on. We’re in the middle of that operation. We’re about 22 percent complete, that’s on schedule. That’s going to go through May 21st. That’s ongoing now. So for people in those situations, they should not have received the mail questionnaire, and indeed we’re reaching out to them and doing the measurement in different ways.

As of Friday, I’m happy to note, if you’ve been following this on the website, 65 percent of American households we’d estimate have returned the forms. This is over 77 million households in the country who have completed the short form and mailed it back. We’re going to post an update today at 4:00 on our website. If you’ve been following that, that will make that number be higher, no doubt. It is notable, if you look at those data, that there are states that are above 70 percent at this point already, 10 states have that status. It includes large states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. When we started this operation, the states in the upper middle west dominated the early returns. That’s mainly because they received those questionnaires by hand using our census takers to drop off questionnaires at their houses. Now you see states, other states, catching up that received them by mail.

It is interesting to note that on April 8th, South Carolina as a state, surpassed its entire 2000 census performance. And today, both North Carolina and South Carolina have beaten their own 2000 participation rate. So that’s a notable and noteworthy event, I think. Kentucky is really close, this could happen today for Kentucky. We have hundreds of jurisdictions around the country who have beaten their 2000 participation rate already, and to all of them we salute you for your civic participation and we hope you’ll be joined by hundreds of others in a matter of days.

We remain focused on return rates, participation rates in large cities, in some rural areas. The large cities pose interesting problems to sample surveys and censuses. They are low this decade, as they were last decade. Notable is New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and a set of others. You can go to our website and see this. In fact, if you look at this map here, the colors we love to see on this map over here are those that are yellow, orange and red. And the colors we don’t particularly like to see are those blues. You can see the Texas/Mexico border as an area that is challenging for us. You can see the middle of the state, or the middle of the country with those higher than average performances.

We are focused on all of these areas. We are looking at this daily through a variety of statistical models and intense scrutiny of partnership and other activities. We’ve made changes in our advertising to have much more targeted advertising into the areas and into the subgroups that look like they’re responding at a lower rate.

I want to turn to an issue that you in the media could help us get the word out on, and that is those people who didn’t receive a form, what should they do at this point? And we have a variety of reasons that that might have happened. You might be living in one of those areas where census takers are coming to your door right now over the next few days and weeks. You might have a post office box where you receive your mail, rather than having your mail delivered to your home. You might be in a house newly built that was added just recently and we tried to get about two million of those kind of cases into the mail stream. You may have just received a form, but you may not have gotten it yet.

For all of those people who have not received a form, we have a very simple thing you can do, two alternatives. First, you can call our telephone assistance center, and these numbers are posted right here. The English number is 1-866-872-6868. And starting today, you can call between eight a.m. and nine p.m. local time every day, every day of the week. And there are numbers for different languages and for the hearing impaired.

And starting today, you can take the interview right on the phone. You can answer your census questions right on the phone. It’s the simplest thing you can do. You supply the address where you’re living, and you answer the questionnaire over the phone. Alternatively if you wish, you can go to over 40,000 sites around the country that are questionnaire assistance centers or labeled Be Counted sites. How do you know where they are? You can call these same numbers to find out where they are. You can go to our website, 2010census.gov, and find where the questionnaire assistance centers are. And there, you can pick up what we call a Be Counted form. You supply your address information and fill out the form that looks very similar to the mail out form.

We want to make it as easy as possible for those who haven’t received the form to get it. This is a massive operation, going to over 134 million households. Missing a few households is something that happens every census, and we want to make sure that you have an easy way to get a hold of the form.

But in closing, I want to turn to the most important message. We are counting down the days, the clock is ticking, and we are asking you, if you have a form sitting in your home that you haven’t filled out yet, to take a few minutes to fill it out and mail it back. If you can mail this form back by Friday, April 16th, the odds that someone will come to your house to follow up and ask census questions are much lower. Each passing day makes that likelihood higher. We would love to avoid sending census takers to large numbers of households around the country. And the easiest way for those of you who have a form sitting in your house to avoid that is to fill out the form and mail it back.

I remind us that for every one percent of the households that do that, we save us taxpayers $85 million nationally, a very large sum of money, for a very small act on your part. Taking it down to the personal level, if you fill this form out and mail it back, it costs us taxpayers 42 cents. If you don’t, it costs us taxpayers about $60 to send someone out and take the information in person.

This is a moment, these last few days, where our over 225,000 partners throughout the country and social and political leaders need to come together and get the word out that we are ticking away the clock to return these forms. This is the moment where we can all come together. Ask your neighbors if you filled out your form whether they filled out their form. Pass the word that we have just a few more days left, and this will be a much cheaper census if we can do that.

Starting at about the third week of April, we will begin to build the large files that will identify the addresses that our interviewers will have to go out and call on case by case. We will begin that work on May 1. It will continue through July 10th, and we will have other briefings on that large operation that we call non response follow-up. But this moment, at this time, the message is very clear. If you have a form sitting in your home and you haven’t turned it back, you haven’t returned a form at all, now is the time to fill it out and mail it back. Thank you very much, I’m happy to take questions. Carol?

CAROL MORELLO: Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on?

MR. BUCKNER: Just one second. So as we start our Q&A process, we’ll start here in the room. Please state your name, organize, and your question. Wait for the mic, and then we’ll jump to the telephone as well. First up, Carol Morello, question posed?

CAROL MORELLO: Hi, could you talk a little bit about what you think is going on in the blue states primarily, or blue sections, primarily in the south and the west? How does it compare to 2000 at this point, and how much do you think maybe politically motivated by people who resent the questions being asked?

DR. GROVES: Some of those rural areas that are in blue are traditionally what we call hard to enumerate areas. So you might first ask, so why is that? The challenge of rural areas is both that the kind of– first of all, these are based on either what we call update leave– these are the houses– the blue areas you’re looking at are houses where they have a questionnaire, either by mail delivery or dropped off. In some of those areas, we know we’re actually going to do enumeration, direct enumeration. They don’t even have a mail questionnaire yet. But rural areas pose difficulties, both in making sure we get all the areas. And then the other challenge, I think, in rural areas is that the impact of media that we use is more dispersed. If you think about it in an urban area, there are local media that we can use and local partnership activities that we can stimulate to get communities involved in the census. That kind of organization’s a little tougher in rural areas.

At the same time, in some of those areas, there are language impediments. The Texas/Mexico border, a whole lot of those areas got a bilingual questionnaire, but not all of the areas, and that’s an impediment. So, these are not surprises. If you looked at the 2000 census, or the 1990 census, this is a fact that is replicated over censuses.

CAROL MORELLO: So what impact do you think that politically the opposition to the census has had?

DR. GROVES: Actually, this is a topic of press commentary right now. And the City University of New York has just done an analysis that’s kind of interesting. We’ve done our own analyses. We can’t find empirical support for that, but I can tell you no one has the right data. We can look at the characteristics of counties that are returning the questionnaire at different rates. We see no evidence that some counties that may have voted in one way are lower than other counties. But we actually don’t know individual level attributes of people returning the form or not returning the form.

I can say one other thing, and that is the rate of forms that are being delivered with partial completes that force us to actually go back, they’re so incomplete that we have to go back and call on people’s houses, those are within or below the kind of tolerances we expected from our prior studies. So, we don’t see the evidence there for the impact of that on behaviors.

MR. BUCKNER: Carol, I’m going to have to go to the telephone here and then I’ll come back. All right, on the telephone, I believe we have a question? Please state your name and organization?

STEPHEN ROBERT MORSE: This is Stephen Robert Morse at mytwocensus.com. I have a couple of questions about the questionnaire assistance centers operation. Today, I posted an article on my website that was written by an assistance center employee that suggests that not all of the QACs are listed on the census bureau’s website. And it also suggests that all the organizations and corporations that are listed partners are not necessarily cooperating and working with QACs as they– and are not necessarily partners anymore. Please talk about this?

DR. GROVES: I don’t know anything about the second question. The first question, we’re doing the best we can at getting the questionnaire assistance centers posted on the web and updated. This is a big challenge for us because they’re, as you know, these 40,000 units are moving around cities for different days and different hours. But we’re doing our best on that. (more…)