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Blumerman, Moffett discuss 2020 census

In the 2020 census, the US Census Bureau plans to use new technologies to tackle challenges such as a declining response rate and economic restraints, Lisa Blumerman, associate director of the Decennial Census Programs said at a lecture on Wednesday.


The Census asks ten basic questions about age, sex, race and other identifiers. Blumerman said that the 2020 Census will be unlike any that has been taken before. Other topics and questions will be submitted to Congress in 2017, but in the meantime, cognitive testing is being conducted to consider including a separate Middle Eastern and North African category.

“We’ve had a unique opportunity to test, to research, to look at how we can use data in ways that we’ve never used it before,” she added.

She explained that the Census’ purpose is to conduct a census of population and housing and disseminate results to the President, the states, and the American people. The overall goal for the census is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.

The Bureau is currently working to enumerate 330 million people, living in 140 million housing units, at a lower cost than required by the 2010 methodology. Blumerman said that the Bureau expects to have a cost reduction of $5.2 billion, and estimates that it would have cost $17.8 billion to conduct using old 2010 methods.

“We’ve designed a census to take those cost-drivers into account, to bring technology into the life cycle and to allow us to ensure that we have high quality data,” Blumerman said.

Nonetheless, the Census faces several challenges moving forward, she said. Most significant of these challenges is the presence of rapidly changing technology. In fact, plans for the 2020 Census began before the 2010 Census was conducted.


A second challenge that the Bureau faces is taking into consideration the constraints of the economic environment. In 2010, it was easy for the Bureau to hire the 600,000 numerators employed by the Bureau due to the 2008 financial crisis. For this census, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 will be hired.

Furthermore, the Census has seen a declining response rate over the last 20 years. To counterbalance these declining response rates, the Bureau has identified ways to maximize efficiency and address the problems facing the Census. One such method addresses the reengineering of address canvassing, that is, ways to counteract people who do not respond.Secondly, the Bureau will use a technology that allows them to do a full sweep of the nation in office rather than having employees go house to house, according to Blumerman.

“What we’re looking to do here is to use technology to more efficiently and effectively manage the 2020 Census field work,” Blumerman said.

The 2020 Census will become mobile; using the COMPASS Mobile Application, numerators will be able to collect data from non-response citizens who do not fill out the census either online, by phone or by mail, according to Evan Moffett, assistant division chief for the Census Bureau.

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The Bureau has also identified other ways to streamline and modernize the Census. New technology will allow the Census to provide up to 11 language choices online, including those that use non-Roman alphabets such as Chinese and Korean.

Finally, Moffett noted that the Bureau is also looking into how to deal with issues of fraud.

“Fraud is not going to be a significant problem for the 2020 Census, but we have to put in place some intelligent systems to allow us to detect systematic problems that are going on,” he said.

The lecture took place in 300 Wallace Hall at 4:30 p.m. It was sponsored by the Princeton Survey Research Center and Office of Population Research.