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.

The online Census we all saw coming

A Washing ton Post article by Ed O’Keefe a few days ago quotes Census Bureau director Robert Groves as stating that the 2020 census is unimaginable without some kind of internet option. And I don’t disagree, it would be utterly ridiculous not to have that, seeing as it’s pretty ridiculous right now this second. All the wasted paper, extra man hours, and needless bureaucracy got tiring before it even happened. Was the internet’s popularity really in doubt by the end of the 2000 Census?

Census Bureau hopes much of 2020 count will take place online

By Ed O’Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer

How will Americans use the Internet in 2020? Will we all use cellphones? Will we still have snail mail?

Experts at the U.S. Census Bureau are asking those questions in preparation for the 2020 count, even as temporary workers are knocking on doors to complete the 2010 Census.

Final answers won’t be needed for about eight years, but the team hopes to keep costs below the $14.7 billion budgeted for the 2010 Census and to make it possible for at least some Americans to answer questions via the Internet.

“None of us can imagine doing a 2020 Census without an Internet option,” Census Bureau Director¬†Robert Groves said. Although he’s overseeing the current census, most of his tenure will be tied to 2020 preparations — and he’s pushing for a more efficient operation with fewer people.

“The easiest way to reduce costs in the census is to reduce manpower,” Groves said. “To the extent that we can reduce the number of census worker visits in 2020, we’re going to save a lot of money.”

Groves and his colleagues think they should wait until 2017 or 2018 to finalize plans on the Internet option to avoid making a technologically obsolete decision.

Lawmakers might force the bureau to move faster: Bills moving through the House and Senate with¬†bipartisan support would require Groves to present plans on how to test and implement an Internet response option within six months of the bill’s passage. The agency’s inability to test and use expensive handheld computers for this year’s count has led some critics to question whether it can make a decision in the next 10 years. Groves dismissed those concerns.

“We can do this. I’m very optimistic,” he said.

In addition to cutting labor costs, allowing Americans to answer decennial census questions on the Internet would help cut the bureau’s costs for postage, printing and paper and could get data to the agency faster. Most especially, Groves said, “our guess is the Web will really be great for those people who are difficult to contact in person who are at home very infrequently,” thus reducing the need for door-knocking census takers.

But “we won’t go to 100 percent Internet, because it won’t work,” Groves said. A Web-only effort would make it harder to count those in rural areas or illiterate people, so the agency would continue to rely on paper questionnaires, in-person interviews and maybe telephone calls, he said.

Internet options will be tested in the next 10 years with the annual American Community Survey, which tracks demographic and economic statistics. Although details are sketchy, Groves said he expects the agency to send the questionnaire in paper format with an Internet address and code allowing people to submit answers online. Confidence in the online option might increase if respondents can first review the answers in print, he said.

Canada did something similar in 2006, and 18.6 percent of respondents replied online, said Mark Hamel, manager of the 2011 census for Statistics Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Every Canadian household received a paper form with a secure access code, and the agency used a computer network with double encryption similar to the security features used for online banking, he said.

“Everything indicates that we’re going to be able to more than double our online responses in 2011,” Hamel said. “We demonstrated that the data collected online is much cleaner than it is on paper, because when people answer online, we can make sure that they’re answering the questions that are appropriate for them.”

16 Responses to “The online Census we all saw coming”

  1. censusless in seattle Says:

    PRIVACY. People want to fill out their personal information privately. Going door to door, many residents have told me this.

  2. censusless in seattle Says:

    In my LCO, one CL and his CLA lost paperwork this week and were pointing the finger at each other! They lost some of their crew’s D308 forms, a stack of completed EQs, and some Info-Comms. Strange how they still have jobs. Members of their crew are frustrated.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    SRM – what countries do an internet census currently? how do they handle non response? are there paper and door visits involved with an internet census?

  4. aprilIT Says:

    Hahahahaha!!!!! They can’t get even get Dalt or PBOC to work! Do you HONESTLY think they have the brains to do a internet census????? Hahahaha……Whatta bunch of MAROOOOONS!!!!

  5. Anonymous II Says:

    Just read a comment from an enumerator who said his RCC does not allow crews to meet in each others homes any longer. He said they live in a rural area and there are no other places to meet.

    I commented back to him: There have been CL/CLA/crew who drink while on the job, personal issues (divorce, separation, jealous spouses/significant others, other personal problems, etc.). We meet in our cars close to the AA we are working on.

  6. Anonymous II Says:

    2020 Census: Internet census forms, set up secured Census stations in places like Walmart/Post Office/Libraries [dedicated computers, secured drop boxes for paper forms (some still prefer paper), FAX].

  7. JoeS Says:

    In Census 2000, short form households could file over the Internet, but it was not widely publicized and only 65,000 households did so.

  8. Pro-Internet Census Says:

    JoeS, I never knew this. We still need a combination of methods – some people prefer paper when filing income taxes, voting in elections, etc.; others prefer online.

  9. Pro-Internet Census Says:

    Yuba City, CA census worker knocking on doors between 9 and 9:30 pm? Police shoot 67 year old woman yielding a gun!

    9 to 9:30 pm????

  10. anon Says:

    Census workers knocking on people’s doors at night from 9:00 – 9:30 pm in California?

  11. JoeS Says:

    Here is the report on Census 2000 Internet form

  12. Embarressed Says:

    So what company are they going to hire to write the program? Do you think it will be the same one that did PBOCs? Just saying….

  13. Alan_Va Says:

    This report describes how you could fill out the 2000 Census on the Internet:

    And it’s a shame that you could do it in Census 2000 but not in 2010.

  14. Margot707 Says:

    @Pro-Internet Census – Read the original article. The worker was on her last stop at 7:45 PM and called her supervisor when threatened with a gun by the person who answered the door. The cops were called around 9:00 PM. The woman was shot (and killed) by the police officers when she refused to put down her shot gun and continued advancing on them. In my LCO, our ENs are instructed to not visit or call after 8:)) PM.

  15. Margot707 Says:

    @Alan_Va – Did you read any of the report? Over 16% of the initial responses were deemed invalid.

  16. Alan_Va Says:

    The report says 16.7% of the ID numbers used to request a form were invalid. It does not say 16% of the responses of people who actually were issued a form.