2010 Census And The Internet

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

There has been some Internet activity lately about the possibility of using an iPhone app to answer the census. Using an iPhone app (or apps for other such devices) to answer the census is certainly the wave of the future, and an innovative way to get people to easily fill out and submit their form, thereby increasing response rates.

This is one of the many mobile options the Census Bureau is currently evaluating for future survey response via the Internet, both with some internal research and with the help of outside advisory groups.

We are looking both at new tools of data collection that make it easy for people to respond and tools that can guarantee that information people provide can be kept confidential. We have to worry about both.

It’s easy to predict that there will be many generations of technologies suitable for data collection invented over the coming years. The Census Bureau needs to stay on top of these developments to fulfill its mission to the taxpayers efficiently.

For now, we all need to remember that the 2010 Census will not use the Internet to collect data during the March-July period of activity. During that time, if you see a Web site asking you to complete the decennial census form online, it’s bogus. Don’t use it. (Our tests of Web survey capabilities will be clearly labeled as tests and requests will come from mailed letters to small samples of households.)

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37 Responses to 2010 Census And The Internet

  1. pds says:

    Is there any particular reason that the Census isn’t using the internet to collect data?

  2. kev@censusstaff says:

    We depend on the cooperation and trust of our respondents, and above all promise to protect the confidentiality of the information respondents provide. Earlier in the decade we researched an Internet option for 2010 and found that it didn’t provide enough protection for individual census responses.

  3. jl says:

    Well, how about someone who has been the owner of record for a single-family residence inside a city of over 30,000 since 1985 and has yet to receive a mailer or a door hanger of any kind from the census? They had a job, filed income taxes, had a vehicle and driver’s license, etc. This person was living in an apartment in the same area during the 1980 census.
    This same person’s neighbors said they filled out one for them (without permission and incorrectly).
    So the census just happened to not be able to mail a letter three separate times, even though the person received mailed coupons and the like (if a bulk mailing service could mail something to the person, why didn’t the census)? Further, a census taker for each of the last three censuses didn’t bother to leave a door hanger or had some random person fill it out?
    Basically, the census is just another waste of money. It employs over a million workers to collect and enter data for a few questions, it isn’t now nor has it ever been accurate or secure.
    The fact is, it isn’t done over the internet because of a few reasons, including:
    1) government agencies are notorious for overspending on improperly implemented and just plain bad computer systems and programming
    2) it might prove the census information has been grossly wrong for a really long time
    3) the census couldn’t justify the huge manpower they claim to need
    4)the census in particular has a bad technology track record (was it 60 or 80 million spent on devices that the census takers were supposed to enter information on, and the devices turned out to be useless)

  4. Christina says:

    Wow, I wish I had known this in April. I was address canvassing and I remember one woman in particular telling me she was gonna fill out the Census online. YIKES! I sure hope this news gets out to her & others who need to know.

  5. Edge says:

    Just listening to a census rep on the Tavis Smiley show. Got me wondering about completing my form. Here’s the deal: I seldom check my snail mail (once every month to month and a half). And unless it’s from a biller I know, I often just recycle it.
    If however, I was able to complete my census question online, that would make it FAR more likely that I would actually do it. If you want to increase the participation rate, allow people to go online THIS CENSUS and input their information there.
    It should be an option. Thanks.

  6. EA says:

    I am snow-birding in Texas and will be making my way back home during April. With the mailing schedule of mid March there will not be time for my mail to be forwarded before I leave. I guess you will have to try and catch up to me in May. I do banking, pay my bills, and filed my taxes online so I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to answer 10 simple questions on a secure website. I promise I won’t fill out more than one questionnaire.
    I would be willing to bet that about 20% of the population here right now is from a state with colder climate and will be heading home and miss the important dates for answering the census.
    If the census bureau has been working on this online idea for 10 years already, someone needs a new job assignment.
    Here’s an idea. Make filling out the questionnaire an OPTION this year and in the future. In the future the online option time-frame can precede the mailing times. Then when it comes time to do the mailing you can omit the addresses that have filed online and save a bundle of money on printing and postage.

  7. Esther says:

    I thought President Obama promised us a more efficient government with less waste and responsible spending. Stage one of the census should allow people to respond online. Then, send forms or make housecalls for nonrespondants.

  8. CJ says:

    Why not expand the web site test to the entire country and see how it goes, at least use if for comparison. If you simply sent a serial number to the addressees to submit on-line, that would have made the pre-census notice worth something. The respondents could have been left off the larger official mailing and ignored by the million employees on the ground. I don’t see any value in the information provided by the pre-letter except that it brought me to this web site. I didn’t need this site except to research the strange decisions that it seems are being made. I have yet to find a single valid argument for not allowing the Census on-line. Can you provide an in-depth explanation for that decision?
    Regarding use of the internet you say, “The Census Bureau needs to stay on top of these developments to fulfill its mission to the taxpayers efficiently” and that phone apps and such are the way of the future, but you are not using the much cheaper tools that are available. Ignoring the internet as a method to collect information because there is no way to secure the data simply isn’t true. A more secure Census could likely have been made by sending a post card with a serial number. Sending out a notice that the Census is coming is a total waste. Directing people to a web page and providing the wrong address 2010census.gov (instead of 2010.census.gov) fixed by the web site is wrong for so many reasons. That address should have been allowed to work instead of redirecting.
    The pre-letter directs everyone to a web site if they need assistance. How are those who don’t have internet supposed to get assistance?
    I fill out a Census for my town every year. Why isn’t one Census enough? Even if information is only collected for Town, State or Federal, why aren’t they combined?
    Using the internet would have provided an opportunity to eliminate some of that waste; instead we are paying for a mailing to the entire country that has no value. Instead of using the internet to avoid mailing costs (to and from respondents) and the data entry expenses (which will likely far exceed mail costs) you’re using snail mail. How many trees did you kill? I’m sorry I don’t get it! The million Census employees who are going to be walking around could have benefitted from the knowledge collected through early internet responses. The questions are so simple and so basic; I just don’t get the huge waste wrapped up in the process! I don’t understand!

  9. Robert Smart says:

    Oh give me a break…..We have been submitting much more info than what the census will ask every year when we file out taxes…..

  10. Tekkub S. says:

    Maybe I’m missing something here… but why is this stuff in testing *now*? You guys have had 10 years to get this up and running… and frankly the 2000 census should have had an online option as well. There’s no reason to target iPhones specifically, a well designed form will work on any desktop or mobile browser.
    Seriously, I’m ashamed of the Census Bureau here. I’ve been able to file my taxes and fill out the FAFSA online since before 2000, but I can’t fill out a SIMPLE census form online.

  11. John Zoch says:

    I filled out my 2000 census online. Why can’t we continue this hi tech marvel using a computer? Seems the ‘Paper work reduction act’ is in order here, or, is this just the Fed’s way to create jobs?

  12. Melissa M says:

    I’m dumbfounded that this is even a topic. Where are we living? Last I checked I was living in the United States of America. It is 2010 and I have been using the internet since the early/mid 1990’s. Since the Internet was initially funded by the government for research, education, and government uses in the early 1960’s it is simply ridiculous that the option of allowing individuals to complete it online is now being “considered”. Are you serious??!! If the goal is to truly gain an accurate count then taxpayers should have the option to complete it online TODAY. We are able to file taxes online and renew drivers license online. The mail route will produce a more accurate count. Really? Everyone reading this knows that simply isn’t the truth. If were able to maneuver the internet and read this blog I expect you have the savvy to fill out a simple census online. What an outrageous waste of money on paper, postage and premiums! Do you consider it appropriate stewardship of our tax dollars to manufacture chip clips, coffee mugs, baskets and a pen reminding us the census is important? How about four separate mailings telling us that the census is important, and that the census is coming. The money spent on premiums could be routed into updating the database allowing for the census to do what it is suppose to do.

  13. Alice Barnett says:

    I would like to know why the insert with the census form says mail it back today and question No. 1 asks “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?” If you mail the form back now how do you know when April 1st rolls around there will maybe be more or less people in the home. Does anyone read this stuff.

  14. s dalton says:

    The IRS allows e-file. Just team up and use their system. Census information can’t be any more sensitive than what we already send to the government online.

  15. Alice,
    April 1 is simply a reference date, please fill out the form upon receipt.

  16. John Q. Public says:

    One reason is that the collection methods must be available to everybody, even old people without computers or helpful computer-savvy grandchildren.
    Another reason is that the collection has to be limited to one or two methods to avoid duplicate counting of individuals.

  17. John Q. Public says:

    If the Census Bureau had as much technology funding each decade as the Federal tax-collection agencies have each year, Internet responses would probably be an option this time.
    If the issue is important to you, ask your Congressional Representative to move some money around for next time.

  18. John Q. Public says:

    Federal law bars the Census from sharing any raw data with the IRS, so the IRS is unlikely to share its system with the Census.

  19. cwldoc says:

    Probably the idea of a census made sense at the time it was created. However, in the 200+ years that have elapsed, there are a myriad of ways of obtaining the same general information that is collected in the census.
    Through the mass media, not to mention the large number of useless government agencies that exist today, we now have pretty much instant access to information about the demographics of the U.S.

  20. Bob S. C. says:

    I’ll wait until they have electronic filing for the census. See, You must give much more personal info on E-Income tax forms. I do like forests of lush healthy trees, which will never be butchered for silly paper forms, when the info required CAN, and SHOULD BE done electronically. I am appalled at this. ALL The tax payers should be appalled at this… Why is it better to butcher trees for paper for these forms(whether made with recycled paper or not, ONLY a percentage of recycled paper fibers can be used effectively, the rest must be made from freshly butchered trees to make the pulp to hold the recycled paper fibers together effectively). THEN, there is the postage, well, sure the USPS, is a government agency, but You still have to pay those employees to deliver the forms, not to mention the printing fees of those forms. Now then tell me again, how is it efficient to have everyone mail-in the wasteful effort on the forms? Doesn’t make any sense to me, either….Try again.

  21. Bob S. C. says:

    Move money around for what? You mean save some money? You mean no trees will have to be felled to make the paper for all those forms? You mean save some money, don’t Ya? Yeah, I’m surprised too. With the technology This world has, I am truly surprised along with every other intelligent red-blooded American, that E-filing for the census just isn’t an option. What an insult, what a waste of taxpayer money.Yet another classic example of the “Fleecing of America”….When will this wasteful spending end?

  22. Miles Long says:

    No one is asking to make it internet-only. Give us the option of responding online or by snail mail. How difficult can that be? It will do more that just save paper. It would save postage, processing equipment, time and money.
    “Duplicate counting of individuals?” Oh please. Right now, we have the option of filing our income taxes online or by mail. I’ve never heard of anyone duplicating THAT information.
    Come on! This is the 21st century. Get with the times and help save some taxpayer money.

  23. Bob,
    Upon completing the analysis of the Internet response options panels of the 2003 Census Test, and reviewing the preliminary response information from the 2005 Census Test, which included an Internet response option for all panels, both of these tests showed that providing Internet response options did not increase overall response rates, and that only a small proportion of all respondents (6.7 and 7.2 percent, respectively) chose to use this response option. The 2003 results also showed that providing only an Internet response mode actually reduced overall response.
    We have concluded that providing an Internet response option would not provide the desired savings. Without such savings, there also was no offset for the substantial costs involved with building and securing the systems needed to support such an option.
    In addition, while it is true that use of the Internet has increased since 2000, so has abuse of the Internet—hacking, identity theft, “phishing,” and a whole range of cyber crimes. Public concerns about the security of their information also have grown, as have our concerns about the ability to protect the information provided to us.
    All of this information contributed to our decision to forgo the Internet response option from the 2010 Census design.

  24. DP says:

    Bri and Kev, I just want to take the time to thank you for all of your responses. As I have been reading this blog and the comments posted, I am increasingly irritated as I am sure you have to be as well. Thank you for remaining level headed and unbiased as you answer some of these insane questions. There are some very valid questions as well. To all of the people who are refusing to fill out your Census form: I would like to personally thank you for contributing to the destruction of the social programs and government funded programs that we will no longer be able to utilize.

  25. Bob S. C. says:

    I have no idea why the snail-mail method is any safer, or, for that matter, any more secure, as there is too many parcels of mail that get lost, misplaced, and even stolen. So, at the very least, We Americans should have a choice, snail-mail, or internet E-file. Thank You.

  26. t.jefferson says:

    thank you Mr. Grove’s mom

  27. boorooke says:

    I think you are right about internet security concerns. In fact, your comment form states:
    Email address is not displayed with comment
    But a quick perusal of comments shows 5 people (non-census employees) with displayed email addresses in their comments. If you can’t protect the privacy on your own website, I think it is a good decision to not entrust your self with this information

  28. jasmal69 says:

    Well if they are unlikely to share resources, no point in trying. That’s what made our country great-giving up when presented with an obstacle.If 33% of the country is “unlikely” to respond to the census, why did you bother to send it out anyway.

  29. Creighton Fung says:

    We submit our tax returns electronically. Are you saying that our tax information submitted electronically isn’t safe? You actually expect us to believe that getting the information manually from the forms is more accurate and doesn’t cost any more than information gathered via computer?
    This is a bunch of bullshit. Seems to me you are printing massive amounts of paper and mailings and advertising just to keep this little fiefdom running for another 10 years.

  30. Jason says:

    I don’t agree with the current policy of submitting the Census information only via the mail. We should have a choice. The process would be real simple either mail the form back or log into a web site. This is not rocket science. If the information was submitted via the internet then there are fewer problems and more accurate information. If the Census bureau wants accurate information then using the internet is the only option. How many forms are going to get returned via the mail with Mickey Mouse as the name or how many hours are going to be spent try to decipher some ones hand writing. An online form fixes all these problems and makes reporting real time.
    In this day and age it is embarrassing that the census is done only via mail. The Census department should consider getting a new IT department and new IT management. Millions of dollars could be saved and the process would be more effective and efficient. I just don’t; get it…..

  31. Linda says:

    A week before I received my census form I got
    a postcard saying it was “on the way” . Then
    my form came (which I filled out and mailed
    back the same day). And since then I received
    another postcard “reminding me” to not forget
    to return my census.
    I understand the importance of a census, but
    how much did the government squander on all
    those unnecessary mailings ?
    This is why our government has money problems.

  32. Linda,
    It costs $.42 to send the form in by mail. It costs $57 per visit we make to the household. Extensive research has shown that multiple mailings increases mail responses.

  33. Werner Mailer says:

    With all that noise about the Census taking, I did not even receive a questionnaire! My neighbors received theirs days ago and we are living here for almost 40 years!! Looks like Government waste at its best!!!

  34. Dena says:

    I had not received a census form, so called the 800 number, listened to menus and an annoying recording for approx. 5mins, finally got a real person on the line,listened to her at length, finally was told they do not get sent to PO boxes, was directed to a web site where I could find a nearby location to pick up a form. After another period of time found locations not close to my home at all, not to mention the limited hours they were open especially when you work full time. At this point I could have filled out 20 forms online without all the frustration. So I will wait for someone to come to my home, and hopefully someone will be here, or they can leave a form. It is 2010, online availability would be great.

  35. Dena, An Internet option is something we looked into for the 2010 Census. However, earlier in the decade research found that it didn’t provide enough protection for individual census responses. The Census Bureau is committed to getting an accurate count of the population and doing so in a way that protects the confidentiality of respondents. Also, tests for 2010 found that the Internet option didn’t increase the response rate and didn’t provide the necessary savings.

  36. LauraS says:

    Maybe the Census Beaurea should get together with the Turbo-Tax people to see how they protect my information. Seems to me, if I can file my taxes online without worry (and have for the past several years), there isn’t a feasible reason for not being able to fill out the Census online. I live in a rural area and didn’t receive a form ~ and can guarantee there won’t be a Census Taker knocking on my door 3 times. What a waste of my tax money…again. At least tell me the forms are printed on recycled paper?

  37. michael razon says:

    i would like to know the current statistics in technology… tnx

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