Measuring Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau hosted a webcast on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage statistics. One of the key discussion topics was the implementation of methodological changes to the 2014 Current Population Survey. In conjunction with the event, the Census Bureau released expanded information from last year’s survey; in two weeks, we will release the results from this year’s survey, the second year of data collection with the improved methodology.

The Current Population Survey is the primary source of labor force statistics for the U.S. population. Every spring, the survey asks respondents about their income and health insurance in the prior calendar year. As part of the Census Bureau’s commitment to continuous improvement in measuring changes in our society, we’ve been actively investigating new methodologies for several years – including more than a decade of research on the health insurance coverage questions, and through content tests for both income and health insurance coverage questions.

In 2014, we began asking the survey questions about income and health insurance coverage in a manner that is easier for the respondents to answer. Over the course of the past year, we continued our evaluation of the redesign, and sought out experts to review and provide feedback on our efforts.

Making changes to the Current Population Survey is not something we do lightly, because it can result in difficulties with year-to-year comparisons of the data. However, we needed to implement the changes in 2014 in order to establish a good baseline for health insurance coverage estimates before certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

With the idea of maintaining a consistent time series in mind, we introduced the redesigned income questions using a probability split panel design. Of the 98,000 households selected to participate in the 2014 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, approximately 68,000 addresses received the traditional set of income questions, and the remaining 30,000 addresses received the redesigned income questions.

The split design functions like a bridge for year-to-year comparisons of the data. Last year, we used the traditional income questions to look at changes between 2012 and 2013. This year, we will use the redesigned income questions to measure changes between 2013 and 2014.

For the health insurance section of the questionnaire, a split panel design wasn’t necessary for year-to-year comparisons because data from the American Community Survey provided a consistent time series starting from 2008. We administered the redesigned health insurance questions to all households last year. As a result, we increased precision in the measurement of changes in health insurance coverage between 2013 and 2014 – before and after some of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act were implemented. This year we will publish our first statistics showing the law’s effect.

For more information about the redesigned questions in the Current Population Survey, check out the recording of the webcast. You can also look to our Random Samplings blog over the next two weeks for more information about methodology changes. Check back with us on September 16 for the release of 2014 income, poverty and health insurance estimates.

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U.S. Census Bureau Data Shows Gulf Coast’s Recovery from Hurricane Katrina

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast, forever altering the lives of many of its residents. As we pause to reflect on the impact of the storm, we can see a story of recovery told through Census Bureau statistics on population, housing and businesses.

Since 2005, communities in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida continue to rebuild, undergoing significant changes as new homes, schools and businesses replace those damaged or lost to the storm. Census Bureau population estimates show that last year New Orleans returned to the nation’s list of 50 most populous cities for the first time since the storm. In the year after Katrina, its population decreased by more than half to 230,172. While it has not returned to its pre-Katrina level of 494,294, the city’s most recent population totaled 384,320 residents.

While the population continues to rebound in New Orleans, so too do businesses. Some types of businesses have even surpassed pre-Katrina levels, especially hotels, gas stations and restaurants.

In Mississippi, which saw significant damage in many coastal towns, the story is also one of recovery. In fact, the three coastline counties – Hancock, Harrison and Jackson – now have more residents than they did in 2005, with a combined population of 386,144. Looking at towns such as Bay Saint Louis and Pass Christian, we see that their populations have also increased.

Not only can Census Bureau statistics tell us about the recovery from events like Hurricane Katrina, but they can also provide important information about communities for emergency preparedness. Our population estimates help determine the number of people affected by disasters. Our demographic and economic information – like that from the American Community Survey –  assists first responders in identifying the size of populations that may be vulnerable or need extra assistance, such as those with a disability or who speak a language other than English at home. Census Bureau surveys also provide critically important statistics on topics like access to transportation, the number of residents who are elderly or disabled, and how people commute each day.

I’m pleased that the Census Bureau is able to contribute to recovery efforts by providing data on the affected people and businesses to policymakers and planners. These statistics inform decisions that will help Gulf Coast communities rebuild and plan for the future. We look forward to measuring your growth for years to come.

For more information about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana, Mississippi and other affected areas, see this special edition of our Profile America Facts for Features.

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The 2015 National Content Test Is Now Underway

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Written by: John H. Thompson

This month, 1.2 million households began receiving the questionnaire for the 2015 National Content Test. For those who receive the test, your participation in this important milestone on the road to the 2020 Census will help us determine the best questions for you to respond to in the next census. September 1 marks Census Day for the test.

The National Content Test has two main objectives. First, we want to evaluate and compare different versions of questions to ask in the 2020 Census, such as those about race and origin, relationships, and the best questions for determining where people should be counted as of Census Day.

Second, during the National Content Test, the U.S. Census Bureau will try different strategies for encouraging households to respond to the census on their own. We will test nine different approaches to encourage households to respond via the Internet – the least costly and most efficient response option.

The Census Bureau has sent National Content Test questionnaires to a statistically representative sample of households in the United States and Puerto Rico. For each household, we ask how many people live in the house, and each person’s name, sex, age, relationship, and race and ethnic origin. We ask whether the housing unit is owned or rented. Finally, we ask for the respondent’s telephone number and email address. Because studying the effectiveness of different content is part of the test, different households will receive different versions of question wording.

If you receive a form, please perform your civic duty and complete it. You will help inform our decisions as we design the 2020 Census. Your participation will also help us to identify additional topics for 2020 Census testing later this decade. As always, the information we collect is subject to strict privacy and confidentiality laws, and we go to great lengths to protect your data. The National Content Test is part of our ongoing testing activities to research innovative methods for reducing the cost of the 2020 Census, while still maintaining a high-quality census. It will help us develop a census that is cost-effective, improves coverage, and reduces operational risk.

The 2015 National Content Test is scheduled to run through November 2015. You can learn more by visiting our FAQ page.

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New Advance Report on International Trade Available Today

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the first-ever Advance Report: U.S. International Trade in Goods. The Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency,” and this report is part of our ongoing efforts to release U.S. trade data to the public as quickly as possible. The Advance Report of U.S. trade data will be published up to a week before the full FT-900: U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services that is jointly issued by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Many American businesses, policymakers and other data users rely on the Census Bureau’s international trade statistics to make data-driven decisions. These data are crucial to understanding the U.S. economy with respect to our trading partners and the impact of events around the globe. Now, data users will have earlier access to our statistics with this high-level “snapshot.”

Even better, the Advance Report of U.S. trade data allows the federal statistical community to produce more reliable initial estimates of quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP). BEA will use the Advance Report of U.S. trade data when preparing its advance estimate of quarterly GDP, which measures the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. economy and is one of the most comprehensive and most closely watched economic statistic. Getting this initial estimate accurate, with small subsequent revisions, is critical to the Federal Reserve, businesses and policymakers around the world.  The new Advance Report of U.S. trade data should reduce the size of revisions to this major economic indicator.

The Advance Report of U.S. trade data is just the latest example of the Census Bureau’s commitment to releasing the timeliest, accurate, and trusted information about our nation’s people and economy. We are constantly looking for ways to improve your access to our statistics.  I’m pleased that this collaboration with BEA will support the needs of taxpayers and our data customers for better, faster measures of the U.S. economy.

Click here to access our first Advance Report. You can also click here to access BEA’s first GDP report incorporating data from the Advance Report, which is their advance estimate of second-quarter GDP.

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Update on the Census Bureau’s IT Security Incident

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Earlier this week, the Census Bureau experienced an attack to gain access to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse, which is housed on an externally facing IT system that contains non-confidential information, such as names of the person submitting the information, organization addresses and phone numbers, site user names, etc.  While our IT forensics investigation continues, I want to assure you that at this time every indication is that the breach was limited to this database, and that it did not include personally identifiable information provided by people responding to our censuses and surveys.

It appears the database was compromised through a configuration setting that allowed the attacker to gain access to the four files posted to the hacker’s site.  The hackers acquired the data illegally, but as I indicated above, the Clearinghouse site does not store any confidential household or business data collected by the Census Bureau.  That information remains safe, secure and on an internal network segmented apart from the external site and the affected database.  Over the last three days, we have seen no indication that there was any access to internal systems.

The Federal Audit Clearinghouse is used to collect single audit reporting packages from state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and Indian tribes expending Federal awards.  The federal awarding agencies use the single audit reports to ensure program compliance.  We were in the process of making additional Clearinghouse information available via the Internet next year.  Within 90 minutes of learning of the breach, we made the system inaccessible.  It will remain offline until we can complete our thorough investigation and take steps to ensure the systems integrity in the future.

However, in light of this breach, we are increasing our efforts to ensure the security of our site.

We continuously scan our systems to look for vulnerabilities.  The Census Bureau follows every possible precaution and uses the latest IT security standards to make sure our systems remain secure.  In addition, the Department of Homeland Security also runs scans regularly.

Through our surveys and censuses, American taxpayers and businesses entrust the U.S. Census Bureau with their information to produce statistics about our population and economy. The information we collect helps the nation make informed decisions, from transportation projects to social services to businesses and job creation.  As you know, we do not take this trust lightly and have a good record of keeping confidential information safe.

The IT security office is continuing its investigation, and they will further strengthen our security systems based on what they learn.  I assure you that we will continue to safeguard the information and data of both the public and our employees.  Your trust is paramount to our mission.

Updated information:

The following survey sites are temporarily offline for maintenance and testing because of our ongoing IT security investigation:

  • Federal Audit Clearinghouse (Due dates between 7/22 – 9/30/2015 are extended to 10/31/2015)
    • Contact: 1-800-253-0696 / erd.fac@census.gov
  • Survey of Sexual Victimization (Two week extension to respond)
    • Contact: 301-763-2586 / greta.b.clark@census.gov
  • Public Libraries Survey
  • Annual Survey of State Government Finances
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov
    • Contact: 301-763-5635 / cheryl.h.lee@census.gov for details on submitting your data through a secure FTP site
  • North Carolina State Treasurer: Annual Financial Information Report (AFIR) – 2015
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov
  • Maryland State Data Collections – 2015
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov

Please see our statement for more information:

Census Bureau Statement on IT Security Incident

July 22, 2015 – The U.S. Census Bureau is investigating an IT security incident relating to unauthorized access to non-confidential information on an external system that is not part of the Census Bureau internal network.  Access to the external system has been restricted while our IT forensics team investigates.

Security and data stewardship are integral to the Census Bureau mission.  We will remain vigilant in continuing to take every necessary precaution to protect all information.

If you have any questions or concerns about how the Census Bureau protects your data, I encourage you to contact our Respondent Advocates, Dave Waddington and Nishea Quash, at respondent-advocate@census.gov. Dave and Nishea can explain the many policies and procedures that the Census Bureau uses to ensure America’s data is safe and secure.

 

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