Archive for the 'Census' Category

PAA writes a letter

The Population Association of American and the Association of Population Centers wrote a letter to the Trump administration on behalf of 40 federally funded population centers and 3,000 scientists in opposition to the potential nomination of Thomas Brunell to be the Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. For more details about the politicization of this appointment see this earlier post.

[Deputy Director Letter: December 5, 2017]

We join other scientific organizations in calling on the Administration to promptly submit to the United States Senate a qualified nominee to serve as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and to reserve the agency’s Deputy Director position for a qualified candidate who can help lead the agency during these critical years leading up to the 2020 Census.

This letter was also noted in the Washington Post, which is good as most people don’t go trolling the PAA website.

Apparent White House pick to lead census sparks concern about partisanship
Tara Bahrampour | Washington Post
December 7, 2017


The title is in all caps because that’s how the press is responding to the Trump Administration’s likely appointment to the Census Bureau. This is a very politicized appointment to the Deputy Director position, which is typically a career civil servant with operational and statistical expertise. In fact, the previous Deputy Director [Nancy Potok] just left the Census Bureau to become the Chief Statistician of the United States at OMB.

Read the posts and weep:

Trump’s new Census Bureau hire could give the GOP a big boost
Paul Waldman | Washington Post
November 21, 2017
This post concentrates on how bad this pick is and the permission it gives the administration to do anything it wants to.

Now let’s put this in a broader context. All across the government, this administration has been demonstrating its utter contempt for the idea of expertise, that people given great responsibility might actually want to know what they’re doing. The resentment of pointy-headed elitists has long been a resource Republicans have drawn on, and it has expressed itself to a degree in their prior administrations. But they largely accepted that you could appoint ideologues who also have relevant knowledge. In the Trump administration, however, knowledge seems to matter less than ever.

. . .

It’s not like none of this has any precedent. But officials seem particularly unapologetic about it this time around. Trump, to repeat, is not making these decisions. But it’s his brazenness — not just about his own ignorance and inexperience, but about everything — that gives those who work for him permission to take things a step or two farther than they might have under a different Republican president. They see not only his personal history but also his willingness to do things such as appoint members of his family to key posts, and they know that they no longer have to act with any restraint. The result is in many cases a more purely partisan and ideological set of appointments and policies, because people no longer feel that they need to pay lip service to expertise or any broad, bipartisan conception of the national interest.

Leading Trump Census pick causes alarm
Danny Vinik and Andrew Restuccia | Politico
November 21, 2017
The 2020 count might be put in the hands of an inexperienced professor who wrote that ‘Competitive Elections are Bad for America.’

Brunell was under consideration over the summer for the Senate-confirmable job of census director, but the administration declined to nominate him after receiving pushback from Capitol Hill, according to two people who track the census closely.

. . .

“This is worse than making him director,” said a former high-ranking Commerce Department official. “There still is going to be hell to pay on the optics. The Democrats and civil rights community will go nuts.”

The Fewer Competitive Districts We Have, The Better
David Harsanyi | The Federalist
November 22, 2017
The Federalist responds to criticism of the potential candidate: Perhaps Thomas Brunell is unfit to run the U.S. Census Bureau. But his thesis on competitive elections is perfectly reasonable.

Trump Is On The Verge Of Politicizing The Census, Advocates Say
Sam Levine | Huffington Post
November 22, 2017
One former Census official said the White House’s reported pick for a high-level Census post was mind-boggling.

. . . the Trump administration was choosing to make the Census partisan.

“Politics have no business in the Census but the Trump Administration’s leading candidate for the deputy director slot at the Census Bureau, Thomas Brunell, would introduce blatant partisan politics into the national headcount,” Flynn said.

Vanita Gupta, who ran the civil rights division in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration and is now president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Brunell’s appointment would undermine the credibility of the Census.

“With regard to the deputy director, historically and traditionally, that person has had significant civil service experience, strong management credentials overseeing a large organization and operation, and considerable expertise in the federal statistical system,” she said in a statement. “Thomas Brunell is outside that mold. Coupled with the partisan nature of the body of his work, this appointment would undermine the credibility of the bureau’s role as a fundamentally nonpartisan statistical agency. Very little in Brunell’s background suggests that he is the right person for this job.”

Sparks said by picking Brunell, the Trump administration would be making a clear statement about how they see the Census.

“They’re making a statement if he is appointed. A real political statement that the White House wants to have their thumb on the Census Bureau,” he said.

Link to Additional Articles

Census 2020 Oversight Hearing

Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
October 12, 2017

Live Testimony: Part 1 | Part 2

I followed this live and posted some tweets:


But, if you want the full experience, watch the testimony. Note that late in the hearing, Matt Cartright, D-PA, asked when the Census Bureau would be getting a new director. Apparently, the Trump Administration had a candidate in mind but has withdrawn the name due to push back and the fact that he would have to be confirmed. We now find out, that this candidate is now in line to be the Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. [Read about this hubbub here.]

Census is in trouble: decennial and economic

For the last 8 months or so, there have been articles about funding/planning woes at the Census Bureau. Below are a series of posts that highlight these issues again.

A few cents, a lot of sense, and the Census
Editorial | Washington Examiner
October 12, 2017
This editorial, from a right-leaning editorial board, says that Republicans will be blamed for a bad 2020 Census:

It will not pay for Republicans to be cheap. A faulty census will lead to a dubious reapportionment of congressional districts among states, and an even more dubious redistricting. Our democracy can’t afford a further erosion of trust.

A botched Census under a Republican president would buttress suspicion that Republicans can win elections but can’t govern competently.

It reiterates that this is a government responsibility – not just a wasteful endeavor:

The Census isn’t an Obama boondoggle or New Deal invention. It’s at the heart of what the federal government is supposed to do. The decennial census is an obligation specified in Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives.

An “actual enumeration” of the American people is due “within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct” after the first census of 1790.

Is Washington Bungling the Census?
Danny Vinik | Politico
October 11, 2017
This post notes that the Economic Census is being delayed by 6 months. It should start collecting data on June 2018 instead of January. The reason: the Census Bureau needs the money for 2020 Census planning:

The Census needed the money earmarked for the Economic Census to prepare for the 2020 decennial, which Congress has underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars. In a tight budget environment, the bureau was effectively forced to choose between two of Washington’s most important efforts to collect data on the country. Even if it’s conducted on the new schedule, the delay of the 2017 Economic Census will have negative effects down the line; it leaves outdated baseline numbers in place for policymakers, and creates problems for companies that need to comply. Said another census-watcher of the 2017 survey: “It will always have this asterisk.”

Census 2020: How it’s supposed to work (and how it might go terribly wrong)
Heather Long | Washington Post
October 11, 2017

2020 Census needs major cash infusion, commerce secretary will tell Congress on Thursday
Michael Scherer and Tara Bahrampour | Washington Post
October 10, 2017
This post makes reference to a House Congressional Oversight meeting where Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce answered questions about the 2020 Census – note that he testified because there is no Census Bureau director.

The post also gives a fair number of examples of Census Bureau plans to use technology to reduce the cost of the 2020 Census and how this effort has been stymied by a lack of funding. In the end, there will be more paper/pencil labor, which costs more than some of the automated systems the Census Bureau planned to use – but haven’t been able to test.

Commerce: 2020 census to cost $3B more than planned
Chase Gunter | FCW: The Business of Federal Technology
October 10, 2017

The Census Bureau is retreating from a plan to save $5 billion in the 2020 Census.

The bureau had held out hopes for massive savings over the $17.5 billion in projected costs based on 2010 methodologies, but the agency had to revise its estimates. Technology cost overruns and fears of low online response rates have contributed to the steep upward revision of the costs of counting the U.S. population in 2020.

Where does old housing stock dominate?

Here’s a nice map of the US by zip code that shows the time period when the plurality of houses had been built. So, a fast growing area did not have most of its housing stock by 1960. Conversely, there are plenty of areas where most of the housing stock was built by 1940 (think Northeast and lots of the plains states).

age of housing stock

The data source for this is the American Community Survey. The actual map came from the MapPorn site on reddit.

Two final notes:
This map is based on contemporary information so it doesn’t necessarily really reflect the history of housing stock in a zip code. If housing built in the 1920s was demolished during urban renewal in the 1970s, this stock is no longer available to be reported on by the current residents.

And, just by chance, here’s another image from Reddit on the age of the housing stock by districts in Germany. The dark shades represent either the oldest (purple) or the newest (green).

age of German housing stock

Census Bureau is on the radar

The Census Bureau is losing its director at the end of this month and due to the pace of political appointments by the administration it could be a long time before it gets a director. This is serious because the Census Bureau is ramping up to the 2020 Census without enough money and was included in the High Risk Report compiled by the Government Accountability Office.

But, instead of focusing on this, Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI noticed that a subcontract for the media campaign has potential political leanings and wants an investigation:

GOP senator voices concerns about pro-Dem firm working 2020 Census
Will Carr | Fox News
June 5, 2017
Fox News has learned that last summer, a pro-Democratic analytics firm that describes itself as “a platform for hope and change” was included as a subcontractor in a $415 million advertising contract for the 2020 Census.

The editorial team at Bloomberg News is focused on the big picture:

Avoiding the Census Fiasco of 2020
Editorial Board | Bloomberg News
June 5, 2017
More is at stake than you might think.

Here are a few snips from this editorial

The fact that the census of 2020 is shaping up to be a fiasco is no small matter.

The troubles at the Census Bureau aren’t new. Nonetheless it falls to President Donald Trump to fix the problem — and to do this, he’ll need to move quickly.

Soon it will be too late to get back on track. Without delay, Trump must nominate competent people to fill the empty posts, and Congress must allocate money for the necessary tests. The census debacle of 2020 is looming.

So, to the nominations or “help wanted” problem:

white house with help wanted sign

Here’s a tracking database on the status of political appointments for President Trump. There are a lot of open nominations. In spite of a Trump tweet that Congress is obstructing his appointments, the bigger story is how few nominations there are. As of this post, there was no nominee for 441 of the 559 key positions requiring Senate confirmation. See tracking data base below to check on the status of his appointments.

This tracking database is a cooperative project by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post. Click either link for access:

Partnership for Public Service | Washington Post

Census Bureau director resigns

The Census Bureau director has just given notice that he’ll be resigning on June 30, 2017. His term officially ended in December 2016, but he has continued his role as director. This is a crucial time for the Census Bureau as it is ramping up for the 2020 Census without enough funds – at least in historical terms.

funding graph

[Link to FiveThirtyEight post on Census Bureau funding]

Here’s the coverage of John Thompson’s resignation in reverse chronological order:

The U.S. census is in trouble. This is why it’s crucial to what the nation knows about itself
Henry Farrell | Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post
May 15, 2017

Excellent synopsis of an interview with Ken Prewitt, former Census Bureau director. And, a nice conclusion as well:

President Trump must now step in, name a high-quality director and insist that Congress provide the Census Bureau the money it needs. The 2020 Census will begin in April of that year — right in the middle of primary season. The bureau’s troubles pre-date Mr. Trump’s ascension, but the census is happening on his watch. If it fails, he will own it.

Is the census heading for a crisis?
Danny Vinik | Politico
May 13, 2017

The director resigns just as the $1.5 billion agency heads into its biggest test. Next in command may be a weather forecaster.

The Head of the Census Resigned. It Could Be as Serious as James Comey
Haley Sweetland Edwards | Time
May 12, 2017

In a week dominated by President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, you could be forgiven for missing the imminent departure of another, less prominent federal official.

Yet the news this week that John H. Thompson, the director of the Census Bureau, has abruptly resigned is arguably as consequential to the future of our democracy. That’s because the Census Bureau, while less flashy than the FBI, plays a staggeringly important role in both U.S. elections and an array of state and federal government functions.

Census Director to Resign Amid Worries Over 2020 Head Count
Jonah Bromwich | New York Times
May 10, 2017

Census Bureau Director Resigns As Agency Faces Funding Debate
Doreen McCallister | NPR
May 10, 2017

US Census Bureau director abruptly resigns
Brooke Seipel | The Hill
May 9, 2017

U.S. Census director resigns amid turmoil over funding of 2020 count
Tara Bahrampour | Washington Post
May 9, 2017

Census director quits as census ramps up
Michael McAuliff | Huffington Post
May 9, 2017
Facing a major budget crunch, the man who was counting the U.S. population for Trump is resigning

[Bonus content]
Census2020 Oversight Hearing
May 3, 2017

Census Bureau director stepping down amid watchdog concerns
Jory Heckman | Federal News Radio
May 9, 2017

Mapping Megaregions via ACS commuting data

Two researchers have created a map of megaregions in the US based on commuting data from the American Community Survey (ACS). The results are covered in both the popular press and in PLOS One. The latter provides more details about how they constructed the maps – it wasn’t just via a mapping program.

How 4 Million Commutes Shape America’s ‘Megaregions’
Laura Bliss | Atlantic: City Lab
December 7, 2016

An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions
Garrett Nelson and Alisdair Rae
November 30, 2016

If you are so inclined the authors have made their data available for replication via Figshare.

[Additional Media Coverage]

White House suggests adding Middle Eastern & North African race category to Census

If approved, the new category would appear on the 2020 Census and could have far-reaching implications for racial identity, anti-discrimination laws and health research. Currently, people from the Middle East are categorized as white: this was the result of a ruling a century ago in which Syrian Americans argued against being in the Asian category and therefore denied citizenship under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Read more from USA Today: White House wants to add new racial category for Middle Eastern people.

Data Sleuths at the Census Bureau

The Census Bureau gathered data on fertility by asking a “children ever born” question from 1940 to 1990 in the decennial census. The 2000 Census did not ask a fertility question at all. With the advent of the American Community Survey, fertility was covered but with a different question. It asked if a woman had given birth to a child in the past year. This allows researchers to compute a total fertility rate. It performs reasonably well against the measure produced from the vital statistics system. And, given that geography is not readily available with the natality detail files anymore, this is a welcome solution. The main drawback to the ACS question is that the reference year will not span the calendar year that the vital statistics system is based on. Only the December respondents are referencing a January to December calendar year. See the Background section below for a further discussion of this.

However, recently, the Census Bureau noticed some anomalies in the data for selected areas and determined that some interviewers had been sloppy and asked “Have you given birth” rather than “Have you given birth in the last year.” Many more women will answer yes to the former and inflate the numerator. This is a good illustration of how much effort the Census Bureau goes to for producing accurate and robust statistics.

Data Sleuthing
Addressing Data Collection Errors in the Fertility Question in the American Community Survey
Tavia Simmons | Census Bureau
August 2016

In recent years, a few geographic areas in the American Community Survey (ACS) data had unusually high percentages of women reported as giving birth in the past year, quite unlike what was seen in previous years for those areas. This paper describes the issue that was discovered, and the measures taken to address it.

Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States from the American Community Survey: 2000 to 2004
T. Johnson and J. Dye | Census Bureau
May 2005

Slides 23 to 26 discuss and illustrate how the ACS and Vital Statistics estimates diverge from each other.