Happy 25th Anniversary, TIGER

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By John H. Thompson

When you think of the U.S. Census Bureau, you probably think of surveys and statistics. But did you know that geography is also a big part of our work? Geography plays an important role in creating surveys and collecting data, and it provides meaning and context for our statistics. The Census Bureau conducts research on geographic and address topics, makes reference maps to support censuses and surveys, and creates tools to visualize geographic and statistical data.

The Census Bureau’s history of mapping population data dates back to the 1860s. Under the direction of Census Superintendent Francis Amasa Walker and Chief Geographer Henry Gannett, the Bureau produced the Statistical Atlas of the United States, a landmark publication that contained innovative data visualization and mapping techniques.

Blog_IMG1A century later, the Census Bureau was a leader in the early development of computer mapping. In the 1970s, James Corbett of the Statistical Research Division devised a system of map topology that assured correct geographic relationships. His system provided a mathematical base for most future Geographic Information Systems (GIS) work and helped spark the development of computer cartography.

However, at that time, the Census Bureau still relied heavily on paper maps. Census Bureau geographers and cartographers used some computer-scanned mapping files, covering about 280 metropolitan areas, to create paper maps for enumerators to use. For the rest of the nation, paper maps came from a variety of sources, varied in quality and scale, and were quickly outdated.

Finally, in preparation for the 1990 Census, the Census Bureau, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, developed the first nationwide digital map of the U.S., Puerto Rico and other territories called the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) database. As a national digital map, TIGER contains all of the geographic features — such as roads, railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — that are necessary to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs. I was a Census Bureau employee when TIGER debuted, and I still remember the excitement surrounding it. It was hugely innovative and represented an exciting step forward in the way we collect data.Blog_IMG2

Over the past 25 years, TIGER has evolved into a dynamic mapping system that helped catapult the growth of the GIS industry and improve Census Bureau data products. Today, TIGER is updated annually and available for free download. It provides the nation with a valuable set of geographic information that anyone can use — including businesses, government, nongovernmental organizations and the public. Every state and local government has the capability to create its own GIS with our small-area census data.Blog_IMG3

The Census Bureau’s history is one of innovation. From the Hollerith tabulating machine to the use of UNIVAC I and the development of TIGER, we have made significant technological advancements — and we will keep on doing so. As the 2020 Census approaches, we are continuing to improve TIGER each year in order to deliver the most timely and reliable statistics.

Happy anniversary, TIGER!

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Lessons Learned from 2014 Test Will Improve 2020 Census Operations

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Written by: John H. Thompson

This summer, I blogged about the 2014 Census test that took place in parts of Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md. This was one of several mid-decade tests to research new methods and technologies for making the 2020 Census quick, easy and secure—and ultimately make the per household costs of the Census lower than in 2010 without sacrificing data quality. From April through September, we tested several key aspects of census operations, including ways to maximize Internet response by the public, changes to the way we manage our field operations, and new uses of technology.

We completed field operations for this test just a few weeks ago, and it went very well. We deployed all of our key activities on schedule, and we accomplished and learned a lot.

One of our major goals was to test ways to maximize Internet response. In 2020, we hope to use technology to reduce the overall cost of the census by potentially as much as $5 billion in taxpayer money compared with conducting it on paper (as in all past censuses). This test researched the use of the Internet in two main ways:

  1. As a way to contact people prior to the survey — We introduced “Notify Me Census,” which allowed households to tell us the most convenient way to contact them when it is time to respond to the survey. About 3 percent of households that were provided the “Notify Me” option opted to receive an email or text message instead of standard mail materials.
  2. As a response option — Nearly 58 percent of housing units responded online. The test’s overall self-response rate was 71 percent, meaning that 81 percent of self-responders chose to respond via the Internet rather than by mail or phone.

We made big strides toward maximizing the efficiency of our enumerators’ work using technology, including the use of smartphones to collect interview data and record their hours and mileage — all tasks done on paper in previous censuses. We also conducted a “bring your own device” test at Census Bureau headquarters to assess new secure software for collecting data on smartphones and tablets owned by enumerators (as opposed to using devices furnished by taxpayers).

What’s next? The Census Bureau is analyzing the results of the 2014 test and already incorporating early lessons to refine our questionnaires, systems and processes for our spring 2015 census tests in Maricopa County, Ariz., and in the Savannah, Ga., media market. Together, these tests will enable us to make critical design decisions for the 2020 Census by the end of September 2015. Through this careful research and testing, we can take steps to make it easier for people to respond and reduce the overall cost of the census, while maintaining our commitment to quality, accuracy and confidentiality.

To stay informed about preparations for the 2020 Census, please visit Census.gov.

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Preparing for the 2020 Census: Measuring Race and Ethnicity in America

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By John H. ThompsonDSC_0031

The year 2020 may seem a long way away, but we’re already in full swing preparing for the next decennial census. Today, we held an operations update to announce some of the steps we’re taking to ensure that the 2020 Census provides the highest-quality statistics about our nation’s increasingly changing population, such as how we measure race and ethnicity.

One challenge we face is how Americans view race and ethnicity differently than in decades past. In our diverse society, a growing number of people find the current race and ethnic categories confusing, or they wish to see their own specific group reflected on the census. The Census Bureau remains committed to researching approaches that more accurately measure and reflect how people self-identify their race and ethnic origin.

During the 2010 Census, most households received a census form that asked about race and Hispanic origin through two separate questions. However, we also conducted a major research project – called the “2010 Census Race and Hispanic Origin Alternative Questionnaire Experiment” (AQE) – to better understand how and why people identify themselves in different ways and in different contexts.

The AQE tested different questionnaire strategies with four goals in mind:AQE_Graphic1

  1. Increase reporting in the race and ethnic categories as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget,
  2. Increase responses to the race and ethnicity question(s),
  3. Increase the accuracy and reliability of the results, and
  4. Elicit detailed responses for all racial and ethnic communities (e.g., Chinese, Mexican, Jamaican, Lebanese, etc.).

The results of the AQE supported all of these objectives. One of our experimental approaches asked about race and Hispanic origin in one combined question. In the combined question, each major racial and ethnic group had a checkbox with examples and a write-in line where respondents could provide detailed responses. Many individuals across communities liked the combined question approach. They felt it presented equity to the different categories.

Some of our findings from this experiment include:AQE_Graphic2

  • Combining race and ethnicity into one question did not reduce the proportion of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders.
  • The combined question yielded higher response rates.
  • The combined question increased reporting of detailed responses for most groups, but decreased reporting for others.
  • The combined question more accurately reflects self-identity.

 

You can check out the AQE website for more information on our findings, and to see what the AQE questions look like.

The AQE’s results led to some promising strategies to address the challenges and complexities of race and Hispanic origin measurement and reporting. We have a lot to consider as we make decisions for the 2020 Census. In order to make the best decisions possible, we are embarking on mid-decade research with both the combined question and separate questions approach. We’re also engaging in an ongoing discussion about race and ethnicity among statistical agencies and various population stakeholder groups. Together, these discussions and research will enable us to provide the most accurate, reliable, and relevant data possible about our changing and diversifying nation.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll blog about additional topics that we addressed at that event.

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Happy Manufacturing Day!

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By John H. Thompson

Did you know that October 3 is Manufacturing Day? Today’s observance recognizes the major role that manufacturing plays in our economy – and the world’s economy. U.S. manufacturers produce nearly $6 trillion in shipments a year and employ Americans across the nation. A major source of statistics on manufacturing is the Industry Reports, based on the 2012 Economic Census. These reports on 364 manufacturing industries show statistics on employment, payroll, receipts, value of shipments, expenses, assets, and a host of other topics.

Manufacturing as a Share of Employment of the Civilian Employed

So, what does the 2012 Economic Census tell us about manufacturing?

  • The total value of shipments for the automobile manufacturing industry was $108.8 billion in 2012, up 28.4 percent from $84.7 billion in 2007.
  • The nation employed 49,208 people in 456 soft drink manufacturing establishments. Over $22.1 billion in shipments of carbonated drinks and $13.9 billion of noncarbonated drinks were manufactured in the U.S.
  • Electric household ranges, ovens and surface cooking units comprised 57.2 percent ($2.5 billion) of the total value of household cooking appliance shipments in 2012; 26.3 percent of units ($1.1 billion) were fueled by gas.
  • Guided missiles and space vehicle manufacturers had 46,012 employees and shipments of $19.3 billion.
  • The total value of shipments of semiconductors and related device manufacturing was $70.7 billion. Of this total, microprocessors made up 58.6 percent ($41.4 billion).

Detailed statistics from the Economic Census will provide every state and community with an economic profile to assist planners, businesses and entrepreneurs create new jobs across the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau collects statistics year-round on the manufacturing sector of our economy; these statistics help manufacturers learn about their industries and communities and help them grow their businesses.

You can check out the Census Bureau’s monthly manufacturing indicator – and a host of other measures of economic activity – by downloading our America’s Economymobile app to your Apple or Android device. You can also visit our Economy topic page to learn more about the 2012 Economic Census and many other economic statistics – and be sure to check out our infographic on U.S. manufacturing.

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The Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons Is Key to Explaining America’s Economy

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By John H. Thompson

Did you know that there are 27.1 million non-farm businesses in America? The U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons  provides the only comprehensive source of statistics about business ownership in the U.S. The Census Bureau conducts the SBO every five years.  This is the first time the SBO is being conducted primarily online.

If you own a business, such as a salon or a landscaping company, you may be one of the one million Americans selected to participate in the Survey of Business Owners. Even if you do not have employees other than yourself, we want to hear from you. By participating online now, you can help provide consistent, comparable, and comprehensive statistics on U.S. business performance. For example, the 2007 SBO showed us that 5.9 percent of responding firms reported income from e-commerce – an important insight into how the Internet is shaping our economy.

Right now we are in the process of asking respondents to fill out the Survey of Business Owners,  which is part of, and benchmarked to, the 2012 Economic Census. We begin the Survey of Business Owners after the data collection phase of the Economic Census is complete. It provides information every five years on business characteristics (e.g., if a business is home-based, or how much start-up capital it received) and owner characteristics (such as gender, race and ethnicity, and veteran status) for businesses of all sizes across America.

Businesses of all sizes are crucial to the U.S. economy and having quality statistics on businesses is critical. Some of the ways that government leaders and others use SBO statistics include:

  • Business owners are able to analyze their operations in comparison to similar firms, compute their market share, and assess their growth prospects.
  • Entrepreneurs can make informed decisions about what types of products and services to sell, and where to sell them. They can also use SBO data in business plans and loan applications.
  • The Small Business Administration can assess business assistance needs and allocate available resources.
  • Local government commissions are able to establish and evaluate contract procurement practices.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies have a framework for planning, directing, and assessing programs that promote veteran-, women-, and minority-owned businesses.
  • Researchers can analyze long-term economic and demographic shifts, and differences in ownership and performance among geographic areas.

Although some Census Bureau surveys have given respondents the option to reply via the Internet, the 2012 SBO is the first to utilize the Internet as the primary form of response. I’m pleased that the Census Bureau has embraced the use of technology to make responding to surveys, like the SBO, easier for you.

If you received a letter about Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons, it included instructions for filling it out online. If you have questions, I encourage you to call 1-888-824-9954, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, for more information. Our staff can answer any questions about the survey you may have. Visit our website to learn more:https://econhelp.census.gov/sbo.

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