The Perils of Administrative Censuses

Some who are against a mandatory census argue that the government already has this information and is wasting money re-collecting data. Of course, not all information on individuals is tied to their residence and the census needs to know the location of the population for reapportionment purposes. Others who are against the census are also against big government so probably are not in favor of administrative records as a data collection device.

The following is the record of the German administrative census as compared to a population count. Some of the sources are US-based research from the Census Bureau, which is looking to use administrative records to supplement its address-based census.

Germany Counts Heads and Finds 1.5 Million Fewer Residents Than It Expected
Press Release | Statistisches Bundesampt [German Federal Statistical Office]
May 21, 2013

Lessons from the German Census
D’Vera Cohn | Fact Tank: Pew Research Center
June 20, 2013

When the results of the 2011 German census were announced recently, they included an embarrassing error – at least in the demographics world. It showed the German population was 1.5 million people short of what the government had expected. The news dealt a blow to Germany’s reputation for efficient record-keeping, and it’s also relevant to how the next U.S. Census is conducted.

2010 Census Administrative Records Use for Coverage Problems Evaluation Report
Sheppard, Dave, et.al. | Census Bureau
March 18, 2013

2020 Census: Local Administrative Records and Their Use in the Challenge Program and Decennial
GAO-13-269

February 21, 2013
Highlights | Full Report

And Now for Something a Little Different. . .
Bob Groves | Director’s Blog: Census Bureau
June 27, 2012

Toward a Vision: Official Statistics and Big Data
C. Capps and T. Wright | AmStatNews
August 1, 2013
This piece even references Herman Hollerith:

The Census has a long history of innovation. Herman Hollerith invented the punch card for the 1890 Census; the first civilian computer was used for the 1950 Census. The first official sample survey was used by the Census Bureau to measure unemployment in 1937. Some of the basic technology for GIS was developed in the Dual Independent Map Encoding/Graphic Base Files efforts for the 1970 Census and TIGER for the 1990 Census.

Each of these innovations was done to reduce escalating cost and to preserve official statistical integrity. For these same reasons, the Census Bureau will continue to explore the possibility of using the explosion of Big Data to reduce cost, reduce reporting burden, and increase the effectiveness of national statistical estimation.

These benefits will accrue only if the Census Bureau can continue to preserve individual and corporate confidentiality, working to earn and preserve the public’s trust.

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