Asking for Input on Counting People in the Right Place in 2020

Written by: John H. Thompson

Note: The comment period for the proposed 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations has been extended until September 1, 2016.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s mission is to count every person living in the U.S. every ten years during the decennial census. Just as important as counting each person, though, is making sure we count them in the right place.

Since the first census in 1790, the Census Bureau has followed a basic guideline, given to us by Congress, that says people should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. For most people, applying this principle is straightforward. But for others — such as college students, members of the military and prisoners — knowing where to count them in the census can be more complicated. Over time, we have developed consistent criteria so that we accurately count people in more complicated situations.

In May 2015, we published a Federal Register notice that described where we counted people in 2010 and solicited comments on how we might change our guidelines for where people are counted in 2020. This decade is the first time that we’ve publicly opened up our deliberations on where we count people.

We received more than 260 comments, mostly focused on prisoners and deployed military personnel. After evaluating all of the comments we received, today we published in the Federal Register the proposed guidance for counting people in 2020.

Now, again, we’re asking the public to comment on our proposed criteria for determining residence that we will use for the 2020 Census. Some of the living situations addressed in the new Federal Register notice are explained here:

  • In 2020, we propose to count deployed military personnel at their usual home address as part of the U.S. resident population. This means that they will be included in the block-level counts that are used to draw boundaries for Congressional, legislative, school and voting districts, and to allocate federal resources at the local level. Previously, military and civilian employees of the U.S. government who were deployed or stationed overseas were counted in their home state of record for apportionment purposes only.
  • We have determined that counting prisoners at the correctional facility in 2020 is consistent with the basic principle of counting people where they live and sleep most of the time. The Census Bureau will provide tools to help states make their own decisions about whether to include prisoners when they redraw district boundaries. We’ll break out the data so that states will have a separate count of prisoners, and we’ll provide a geocoding tool to help states reallocate their prisoner population counts, if needed. Prisoners were counted at the correctional facility in previous censuses as well.
  • In 2020, we propose to count the crews of U.S. flag maritime or merchant vessels who are sailing between U.S. and foreign ports on census day at their usual home address, or at the U.S. port if they have no usual home address. Previously, they were not counted in the census.
  • In 2020, we propose to count juveniles in non-correctional residential treatment centers at their usual home address, or at the facility if they have no usual home address. Previously, they were counted at the facility.
  • In 2020, we propose to count people living in religious group quarters at the facility. Previously, they were counted at their usual home address, or at the facility if they had no usual home address.
  •  In 2020, we propose to count students attending college in the U.S. at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time, whether a parental home, or an on- or off-campus residence. Previously, they were counted the same way.

We know that any change in where we count people can have far-reaching effects — on how we take the census, on political representation, and on funding decisions at every level of government — and we want to give everyone the chance to weigh in. I encourage you to read the proposed guidelines and give us your input. The final 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations will be published in the Federal Register by the end of 2016.

Posted in 2020 Census, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Preparing for the 2020 Census: Observing In-Office Address Canvassing

Written by John H. Thompson

Today I visited the National Processing Center, the U.S. Census Bureau’s large-scale data processing center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to observe its role in preparing for the 2020 Census. The National Processing Center collects and processes data for more than 150 demographic and economic surveys, including the decennial census. It also houses some of the Census Bureau’s geographic operations, which play a critical role in providing the framework for survey design, sample selection, data collection, tabulation and dissemination for the 2020 Census.


An accurate address list is the cornerstone of a high-quality census. As we prepare for 2020, one of the four key areas of innovation we’re pursuing is re-engineering the way we build our address list. In the past, census workers would build the list by walking every street in America. Today while preparing for 2020, we are using technology and new information sources to update our address list through a process known as “in-office address canvassing.”

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In-office address canvassing starts with clerks updating the 2010 Census address list based on new information from the U.S. Postal Service and tribal, state, and local governments, as well as commercially-available data. Then, they use satellite imagery and use geographic information systems to identify areas where substantial address changes are occurring. This review process gives us a handle on what housing changes have occurred since the last census, how well the Census Bureau’s address list is keeping up with the changes, and how likely changes are to occur in the future. In areas with rapid change or where we can’t verify addresses from the National Processing Center (about 25 percent of addresses), we’ll conduct in-field canvassing.

National Processing Center staff began working on in-office address canvassing in 2015, and they’ll continue all the way through 2020. Address canvassing is an indispensable part of a complete and accurate census that counts everyone in America once, only once, and in the right place. By using more in-office procedures to cut down on in-field canvassing, we can potentially save $900 million, compared to the cost of updating our address lists the old way.

For more information about how we’ll re-engineer our address canvassing process for the 2020 Census, check out the Detailed Operational Plan for the Address Canvassing Operation. To learn more about the National Processing Center, visit <>.

Posted in 2020 Census, Geography, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Updating Congress on Preparations for 2020: Tune in Tomorrow

Written by: John H. Thompson

Tomorrow morning, I’ll address the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the U.S. Census Bureau’s preparations for the 2020 Census. For the last three years we’ve been studying cost-saving design innovations; now, we’re shifting our focus to operationalizing the design and ensuring it will produce a quality census in 2020. I’m excited to share the progress we’ve made with the Committee.

Plans for the 2020 Census are right where they should be. We’ve already started making the decisions laid out in the 2020 Census Operational Plan – just as scheduled – and we will continue to do so. For example, we recently announced a major decision to use a commercial off-the-shelf platform for data collection in the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) program for the 2020 Census and beyond. Under the guidance of our new Chief Information Officer, research, testing, and IT system development will remain on track for the planned end-to-end systems integration test in 2018.

For more information about what I’ll discuss at the hearing, click here. To watch my remarks live, tune in to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee video feed tomorrow, June 9, 2016 at 9 a.m.

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Preparing for Hurricane Season with Census Data

Today marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. These storms are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena, and they have the potential to affect a large portion of U.S. residents. The 185 coastline counties along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico – areas that are most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes – have a combined population of 59.2 million.

Emergency management officials can access statistics about communities in storms’ paths through the U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap for Emergency Management tool. It’s a web-based resource that provides a live view of selected emergencies and weather events in the U.S., 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It automatically incorporates real-time updates from federal sources so you can view the potential effects of hurricanes (and other disasters) on America’s population and workforce. The Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – both within the Department of Commerce – have worked together to bring you this real-time data.


OnTheMap for Emergency Management uses rich, local socioeconomic and demographic statistics from the American Community Survey and other Census Bureau data sources to give a detailed look at affected areas. It gives you information on the number of people potentially affected by a storm, as well as some of their characteristics down to the neighborhood level – for example, what percentage of residents are 65 or older, or what local employment patterns look like. The Census Bureau provides vital economic and demographic data to federal and local emergency management agencies, which can use this information to better assess hurricanes’ impact on coastal populations. For example, following Super Storm Sandy, New Jersey officials used our data to estimate the volume of traffic in affected areas.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you can find safety and preparedness tips at You can also visit the National Hurricane Center for the latest tropical storm forecasts and follow the National Weather Service for active weather alerts.

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Preparing for the 2020 Census: Choosing Data Collection and Processing Systems

Written by John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a major decision on the path to the 2020 Census. Since December 2014, we’ve been assessing whether to use commercial software products to collect and process data in the 2020 Census, or whether to build our own systems. After a great deal of evaluation and discussion, we have determined that a hybrid approach – combining a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system with specific solutions developed by Census experts – will best meet our needs.

During this same period, our in-house innovation and development teams have been hard at work developing prototypes that we could test during the 2020 Census field tests. These prototypes delivered key digital data collection system capabilities for data collection.  This testing has been a critical part of the development process, allowing us to better understand how we could reengineer our business processes to save money during the 2020 Census.  The work of the teams helped us develop and refine our requirements, and to make a well-informed evaluation of the COTS products.

Based on our final requirements and an analysis of the development and testing results – and with input from experts at Carnegie Mellon University, and the National Academy of Sciences – we decided on an integrated COTS platform that can supply functional solutions as well as allow us to incorporate some of the innovations that we have developed in-house. This approach meets our data collection and processing goals for the 2020 Census, and builds the infrastructure to support all of our censuses and surveys in the future.

Refining the systems we use for data collection and processing is a critical component of our proposal to save $5.2 billion in the 2020 Census, compared to repeating the 2010 Census design. The timing of this decision was critical to meet the schedules and timelines that are key to preparing for the 2018 End-to-End Test, which will test the integration of all major operations and systems.

To learn more about how we made this decision for the agency, click here. For more information about how we’re preparing for the next census, check out the 2020 Decision Memo and our 2020 Census Operational Plan.

Posted in 2020 Census, About the Agency | 2 Comments