Everything You Want to Know About the Census Bureau Is Just a Phone Call Away

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Written by: John H. Thompson

As you might have seen on Twitter, on Tuesday I took a tour of the call center at U.S. Census Bureau headquarters — and even answered a few calls myself. The call center — in addition to our facilities in Jeffersonville, Ind.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Hagerstown, Md. — is one of our agency’s major hubs for answering and tracking questions and concerns from the American public. In a world of instant communication, our customers expect an immediate response to their questions. Our call center staff is here to give real-time answers over the phone, online chat and email.

During my “shift,” I took a call from a college freshman, who asked me what students should know about the Census Bureau. I told him that the data we collect are extremely important to our nation and is used for creating legislative districts, congressional apportionments and funding allocations – and also that the Census Bureau is always hiring in lots of disciplines!

During my “shift,” I took a call from a college freshman, who asked me what students should know about the Census Bureau. I told him that the data we collect are extremely important to our nation and is used for creating legislative districts, congressional apportionments and funding allocations – and also that the Census Bureau is always hiring in lots of disciplines!

So, what kind of questions does the call center get? Many questions are about our censuses or surveys — in fact, our centers in Jeffersonville, Tucson and Hagerstown are dedicated to communicating with survey respondents. Often, people have never heard of the census or survey that has just arrived at their home or business. I talked to one respondent to the American Community Survey, who wanted to make sure the survey wasn’t a scam. I was happy to reassure her that it was legitimate and important — her responses will provide data that federal, state and local leaders use to plan for things like roads, schools and hospitals.

The call center here in Suitland, Md., also answers all kinds of data questions. County and local officials call to ask about their municipality’s official population count. Researchers ask for information on a wide range of topics, from income to housing to international trade. During my visit, I saw one call center employee answer a chat question about how to appropriately cite information from Census.gov.

In addition to helping callers, the call center also helps the Census Bureau by reporting on the questions and data requests they receive. By listening to callers’ feedback, we can make improvements to our mailed materials and website to help the public find the information they need quickly and easily.

The Census Bureau spends a lot of time reaching out to the public to encourage them to fill out our censuses and surveys, and to ensure they trust that we will protect the information that they provide. When someone contacts us, a call center employee is often the first and only Census Bureau employee they interact with— and I’m proud of the good impression that our employees make. No matter what your question for the Census Bureau is, our call center staff are standing by and ready to answer it.

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Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Md. 1-800-923-8282 Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Email and chat at https://ask.census.gov Monday – Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET

If you have been contacted about a survey or census and want to verify that the person who called you is a Census Bureau employee, have a question about a survey form you received, or need to return a call about one of our surveys, please call one of the centers listed below.

Hagerstown, Md. Telephone Center 1-800-392-6975 Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET Saturday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET

Jeffersonville, Ind. Telephone Center 1-800-523-3205 Monday – Saturday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET

Tucson, Ariz. Telephone Center 1-800-642-0469 Monday – Friday: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT Saturday: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. MT Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT

TDD/TTY 1-800-877-8339

 

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Using Data to Understand and Combat the Spread of HIV/AIDS

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual opportunity for people around the world to unite against HIV/AIDS, to support those who are living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that in 2013, 35 million people worldwide lived with HIV, and there were about 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths.

Map showing Total Population and Population Missing Due to HIV/AIDS Epidemics: 2012 (For Africa)

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has affected the populations of many countries. The 10 countries selected in the above image have suffered the combined loss of more than 14.5 million people.

Tracking and compiling data are important elements in understanding and combatting the spread of HIV and AIDS. The Census Bureau has tracked key data relating to HIV and AIDS for many years. In 1987, we created the HIV/AIDS Surveillance Data Base in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it continues to be supported with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Today, the Data Base contains over 164,000 records from more than 14,900 sources, with more added every year. It is a major compilation of HIV prevalence and incidence data. In fact, the Data Base is the most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world, and includes records for all countries and areas with a population of at least 5,000, with the exception of North America (including the United States) and U.S. territories. These records help identify patterns in the spread of infection, which can assist decision-makers, academics and healthcare professionals who conduct research to help end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Researchers at the Census Bureau also use data to assess the impact of increased mortality due to HIV. Using pregnant women’s HIV infection rates, they can estimate and project the prevalence of HIV infection and mortality rates at a national level. Census Bureau population estimates and projections that incorporate the effect of HIV/AIDS are now available for more than 50 countries.

Information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and impacts on population is critical for decision-makers in developing countries, program planners and the international development community. I am proud of the Census Bureau’s history of collecting, analyzing and publishing data that can help in efforts to diminish the spread of this disease.

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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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