The Million of Details

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

I am continually impressed with the number of simultaneously moving parts in the big machine that is the 2010 Census. There are few organizations preparing to have a once-in-a-decade contact within a very short period of time with over 130 million households in the country.

We have a massive list of addresses that was collected last year and now updated with new information (we have to make sure that the new information doesn’t duplicate the old). We have to translate our addresses to a form that the US Postal Service can deliver; we need to make sure that the millions of printed forms of multiple types (the English form, the bilingual form, the census of Puerto Rico) are mated with the correct return envelope and cover note and stuffed into the correct mailing envelope. Then we need to make sure that addresses are printed by machines onto the correct envelope.

With all of these moving parts, little glitches happen. Just last week, we discovered that one of our contractor printers printed addresses on the wrong forms, on a subset of questionnaires within 2 pallets of questionnaires, among the thousands of pallets of questionnaires. The error occurred during image addressing of the form through the open window. There were 10 address imaging machines working at the time, with nine machines dedicated to English “Update Leave” forms and one dedicated to “Puerto Rico Spanish Update Leave” forms. (Update Leave forms are dropped off by our own staff to areas where the Postal Service does not deliver universally.) An operator inadvertently put Puerto Rico forms into the forms feeder that was setup for labeling English stateside Update Leave forms.

The result was that a few houses in Arkansas received a questionnaire for the Puerto Rican census! We’ve tried to correct the problem and get the folks in the affected area the correct form. At least one kind person in Arkansas filled out the form and noted in the margin that they did the best they could deciphering the language even though they don’t understand Spanish. What an act of civic participation!

The glitch is embarrassing, but I suspect it will not be the last of such processing problems. We have in place quality control checks and review steps, but at the volume of work we perform, such mistakes cannot be completely eliminated. Our pledge is to admit mistakes when we find them and try to correct them as quickly as possible. We appreciate the commitment of the American public to make this a good census. With their help we’ll get everyone the form they should have, receive their answers, and process their data efficiently.

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18 Responses to The Million of Details

  1. F Gross says:

    Should people that are not in US legally be counted?

  2. Concerned Person says:

    I want to know why the Feds need this info. How will it be used? I have received another version of this form that asked me for unbelievable questions, including the number of fertile women in my household. I don’t see how or why this is any of Uncle Sam’s business. Is this for a Eugenics program? In fact, isn’t this how the Nazis were able to pin point the exact number of Jews and their names and addresses in 1930s and 1940s Germany? I am very afraid to fill this out – esp. the part about my race and the race of my family members. Why are the Feds interested in this information? What are you planning to do with it?

  3. David W. Bridges says:

    Why does the census bureau say that people who don’t fill out the census will face fines of $5000, when in fact the United States Code Title 13, sections 221 and 222 state:
    § 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers
    (a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.
    (b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.
    § 222. Giving suggestions or information with intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of population
    Whoever, either directly or indirectly, offers or renders to any officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof engaged in making an enumeration of population under subchapter II, IV, or V of chapter 5 of this title, any suggestion, advice, information or assistance of any kind, with the intent or purpose of causing an inaccurate enumeration of population to be made, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

  4. safdsd says:

    I want to know why Mexican, Salvadoreño, Brasileño, Chileno, Columbiano, Argentino, Peruano and etc are not listed as a race but you guys dedicate a question(number 8) for hispanic????????????

  5. says:

    Why are Spaniards being targeted as non white europeans?
    This is discrimination, and segregation!
    A law suit needs to be filed!!
    I thought the civil rights movement happened for a reason!
    If you are going to do this, then you better start including
    French, Italian, Portugese, Greek as well!!!

  6. Charlotte Jordan says:

    I am out of state from my “home state/address” and the post office will NOT FORWARD my census. How can I get a form here in Arizona that I can use for my permanent address in Kirkland, WA?

  7. Marylou Leeman says:

    what questions are being asked?

  8. Safdsd,
    The Census Bureau collects race and Hispanic origin information in
    order to provide data required by various federal programs, laws
    and regulations, as codified by the Office of Management and
    Budget’s (OMB) guidance on collecting and tabulating information
    on race and Hispanic origin.
    We collect data as guided by the OMB statistical policy directive. OMB defines these guidelines for consistency across federal programs.

  9. JFK says:

    The question on CITIZENSHIP is missing big time….In the attached flier it is stated that “Census results are used to decide the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. Congress.” As per our Constitution only US citizens suppose to vote for members of Congress, so if you also count all the ILLEGALS, certain districts can be ‘re-districted’ and end up with an extra Congressman, but who is going to vote for him/her, and who shall he/she represent? Representation without taxation??!!!
    The flier further says “That money is used for services for children and the eldelry…”. I DON’T particularly want my tax dollars used for those ‘services’ for all the illegals in my district, and believe me, there are plenty of them.

  10. JFK,
    As mandated in the Constitution, the decennial Census must count each person living in this country. For more information about the census and the constitution go to:

  11. Cheryl says:

    The census letter is dated March 15, 2010 and says “Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today.” Yet, the actual census form asks how many people are living in the house as of April 1st. Can’t have it both ways – I either fill it out right away (March 20) or wait until April 1.

  12. Cheryl,
    The Census Bureau is dedicated to meeting our Constitutional mandate of counting every person living in the United States. To meet this mandate, we have learned that people are more likely to mail back their census form if they fill it out and send it in immediately after receipt. April 1, 2010 is simply a reference day.

  13. Thomas S. Brown says:

    I have many problems with the Census language. For starters, why use the phrase “husband and wife” instead of “spouses” — this is a gratuitous insult to gay couples. And on questions about racial IDs, everything is reduced to black or white, literally. What if you are, like President Obama, of mixed race? No way to indicate that on the Census form. And many questions incorrectly use the term “race” when they should use the term “nationality” or “ethnic group,” e.g. Pakistanis are not a “race.” Didn’t anyone with credentials in sociology or anthropology proofread this thing???

  14. Marzetta says:

    Why is the word Negro used I thought that term was out dated and racist

  15. Riskybzgal says:

    I’m upset by the elimination of “birth place” in the 2010 Census. Conducting research for future generations will miss that important verification. Also, the lack of occupation is another missed opportunity.
    I’m hoping these important questions are added back in 2020.

  16. Wanda says:

    Negro might be ‘out of date’ but is has been a racial designation in anthropology for a very long time. Everyone understands what it means. African American is not appropriate, ask most ‘black’ (not a race, a color) people and they will tell you they never knew their African ancestors. Many middle eastern people are as dark skinned as people designated ‘black or African American’ their race cannot be decided by the color of their skin. There will always be race questions. Caucasian (not white), negro (not black), Asian (not oriental) etc. Hispanic means you or your ancestors originated in Spain or Portugal, it is too broad a designation, much like African American.

  17. Miriam Henry says:

    I was quite astonished to be asked if I were African American or Negro. Negro is a term that old white men use. One almost lost his job as a US Senator. What are you people thinking about? Why would a black person willingly respond to what some consider an insult? Ask Harry Reid to help you with the wording.
    I overlooked the insult due to the importance of the mission.

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