The Census IDEA Act & Researching Questions for theCensus


I'm Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee and you're listening to the economic explainer podcast here we explain legislation from the J._e._C.'s Democratic Committee members and talk to experts about how those bills could affect our economy the U._S. Government Conducts a census every ten years it's written into our Constitution and is supposed to count every person living living in our country information provided by the census helps policymakers and businesses make critical decisions last year Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the trump administration would add the question to the census asking if the person being counted was a citizen experts have warned that would result in a severe undercount and it has since become crystal clear that the administration is trying to politicize is the survey today we're talking to Dr Andrew Brimmer and Mister Howard Feinberg about the implications of a citizenship question and how an inaccurate census would endanger the planning and investments of businesses across the country to prevent this problem from occurring. I've introduced the census idea act it calls for a three year review for each new question proposed to the essential senses now. Let's here with Dr Rimmer and Dr Fienberg have to say about the consequences of adding a citizenship question to next year census hi this is Rachel and this is randy and we're you're the democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee and today we have a couple of guests in the studio hi <hes> Howard Feinberg <hes> vice president of advocacy with the Insights Association representing the Marketing Research and data analytics industry and also co Director of the Census Project Coalition Alicia Andrew Reamer Research Professor George Washington Institute of Public Policy and at George Washington University great so we've just left a hearing about the economic impact of the census <hes> for the two of you. You were both witnesses. What would you say were your biggest takeaways the extensive impact of the census on the vitality of the U._S. economy and the six million businesses inside of it that very few decisions get made by businesses or by workers or by governments that affect businesses that does not rely that do not rely on the census yeah certainly the extensive use of census data by pretty much every American business for almost every purpose and every decision that they make investment or the planning or even the day to day work as one of when it comes to my members <hes> but I would also point out that even members on the panel discussed a bit about how they've used the data in? In the past or are currently using it of as they lower level legislators and city one of them is <hes> former mayor talk about how we use it for his for his purposes running a city <hes> so it's you run a pretty wide gamut given the importance of survey <hes>. What kind of methodology would you recommend for determining the effects of a new question on the census well it's to do extensive testing the the census questionnaire and its offshoots like the American community survey are very delicate instruments and of questions are not asked correctly or <hes> they can have a negative impact on the quality of the data for the entire the entire survey so part of best practice in the statistical world and it's in the Census Bureau statistical quality guidelines is in the National Academy of Sciences? <hes> best practices actresses for <hes> federal fiscal agencies is to test questions before they are added to the official survey that was not done in this case and one of the things that we do when we're testing about these questions for like in any research organization including the Census Bureau is also using it in testing out in multiple different environments and one of the great things that you know the Census Bureau has is they. They don't just do a descending headcount they do the American community survey as the next most important survey in the country and that is a testbed for questions as well as current population survey and surveys across the federal government. There are various ways in which you can test that out in the real world as well as in controlled environments in for for reasons. I don't understand the the commerce secretary violated these principles purposely. Can you talk a little more about that. Well there there and it's it's in the Census the Census Bureau website it's I actually I left out the the third source which is the <hes> the office of Management and budget reviews under something called the Paperwork Reduction Act every federal survey survey cannot go out without an ownby control number which means only be looks at it and says it's okay to ask these the survey the reason is they don't Congress did not want any federal agencies just to just send out surveys on their own without without supervision so every data collection of the Federal Government gets reviewed by O. N.. B. Including the Sanyal senses even though it's constitutionally mandated Owen be reviewers have a set of guidelines and those guidelines highlights include only asking questions that have been tested so if Cohen be approves to right now where we're all focused on Supreme Court. Actually there's another regulatory <hes> decision to be made which O._e._M.. Be has not yet. Yet given its official. Okay to the twenty two thousand census. The waiting for the Supreme Court decision was <hes> they've been sitting on it for three three or four months but the ownby guidelines for itself about how reviews the stuff it's one hundred page document Um and it goes into extensive detail about the importance of not putting a question on something like that the Samuel Census before it's tested and it's be very interesting to see if oh and be like forgetting about Supreme Court ownby overrides its own principles apples and approves the census and the ship question without testing and in just due to complicate things further <hes> at the hearing another issue is raised the idea of introducing another question into the Census and this one would have to be would be involved asking questions about past felony convictions in criminal status. I mean how would that <hes> how would that impact the responses to the center. The census would that further limit the amount of people that are responding and create undercount and further uncertain. Do you think well it was left a little vague. During the hearing is where they those questions were intended to be added and I think the out to a certain extent the members asking didn't really know necessarily where they wanted it <hes> so yeah I think that having answering those questions with a combination of administrative data and potentially other supplemental surveys make sense Eder can address is that what impact would it have you throw that on the descent he'll census <hes> that's going to be more disruptive than asking about citizenship. Absolutely I agree. It's going to touch a much broader cross section of the population <hes> than I think anyone could imagine and and to the point I don't see any reason why it's necessary tasks that on the essential <hes> and all of this I find rather amusing because I'm a huge advocate of less questions on the American community survey because I already think it's way too long and congress every chance they get when they every ten years they get a crack at approving the questions that the census is going to be asking and they never short didn't the number of questions even though they complain about the respondent burden of anthrax responding to the American community survey they've only ever added questions and when they were taken off they've at least replaced it with a comparable every question on the Census and the American community survey has a federal purpose that it's tied to some federal law regulation so for instance the citizenship questions on the American community survey and it has been in it was on long form before the A._C._S. so the Justice Department can every every so often produce was called citizen voting age population data sets which is paid for by the Department of Justice because just department of Justice Needs Citizenship Update by community in order to appropriately <hes> ineffectively <hes> enforce the Voting Rights Act so citizenships on A._C._S. because census is paid by Justice to produce the C._V.. And it's not great data but it it it's okay. It's good enough for justice is so quick aside that that is another thing that perplexed that's why Ross had trouble finding someone to propose the citizenship question because he took them a long time to get somewhat of justice to say oh the C._v._a.. Data aren't good enough. We need the question on this on the essential but back to this felon question what would be the federal purpose on what federal the law requires the use of those data to for implementation like like the voting rights and citizenship. I can't think of one might be useful information to know and as Howard said and also ever stat the witness said today witnessed it was interesting. The witnesses preferred option was administrative data not adding question to to the census at didn't come out in written testimony but that's that's what he said there are ways. There's a lot of work now going going on around record matching and so for instance <hes> it would be feasible. There are lots and lots of state consortium that are taking data from the Department of motor vehicles and from the school system and it and it could be brought in from the justice system so it's possible to get a picture of the of the of the jailhouse experience of of the population at large and model it on the basis this of records which would produce something more and I could see useful purposes to those data in other words how well are these people participating in the labor force and if they're not why and what what kinds of programs could they be <hes> and made available to them to get them in the labor force so I'm kind of with the broader goal of understanding this population better. I'm certainly expert on the subject but in terms of the means it is counterproductive it would it would destroy royal lot of other things to add the question so the center Obese Ios so that actually brings up another question. There's a lot of talk that we're having now about administrative data and other sources for information <hes> I mean is there a way we use that to replace the information. We're getting from the census so actually this has come up. Frequently in congressional hearings and discussions about the census members have referenced facebook and said well we can just why do we need to worry about audio census. Why do we need to worry about the American community survey? We get such great data from crowdsourcing. We get great data from social media. Why do we need this? <hes> the answer is that all the data that they are talking about into any extent that it is ever going to be considered statistically representative. You have to have a benchmark to work from to start with and that is what the census is so my members in marketing research and data analytics field they can do all sorts of combinations like what Andrew was talking. About they can wait and they can come up with all sorts of fascinating things mazing things that no one's ever thought of before but it all has to come back to an accurate count of the actual population if you're ever going to make anything things statistically representative if your sample of the population is ever actually going to be accurate the art and science of getting a complete inaccurate population count has not advanced to the point where you can rely solely on people's records to get an accurate count and a member of the censuses in the constitution and it's in there for one purpose which is to is to determine the population of every state so that it gets its fair share IRV representatives in the House and <hes> and by extension in the Electoral College. The addition of questions to the census was James Madison's idea in seventeen ninety so it's always been done but it was not the original purpose if one of the founding fathers I had this bright idea to amend the Census Act Seventeen Ninety say as long as we're asking as long as we're counting has why don't we ask people what they're if they're a man or woman or what their ages or what their occupation is and so so that's why all these extra data are in in the census <hes> and it comes back to the head count so there's no way that administrative records Kurds can do an accurate headcount right now and the question is what additional questions you want to add on the census itself like age sex race as well as on the American community survey about how the work and so forth that cannot be accessed by <hes> not existing records this census for the first time he right in two thousand ten about two thirds of people Hausa got a census form filled it out and send it back which means the census bureau had to worry about the other one third and and that's called non-response follow up and they send them a letter and they make a phone call and they eventually send someone to the door this time for the first time the Census Bureau is gonNA use administrative records Kurds as part of non-response follow up so there are using administrative records if someone doesn't fill out the form and they refused to talk to someone sends us now has the capability I looking at Howard now. Do you know what they're using. In terms of Admin records like drunk doc drivers records or I don't know specifically. It's a variety of different sources yeah but but the kind of fill in the blanks they know this person exists but maybe is the age on on the driver's license says the birthday is X. so that that's fine and this will be a work work in progress over the next few decades at least in our lifetimes. It's not going to replace it. You need to keep in mind as well just by the nature of our country administrative records or not the they're not going to be the end all be all. A do you have to have a certain balance in your country and you can't have you know or at least as yet we've not been able to figure out how to have a diverse and extremely extremely diverse and extremely free country that also has perfect administrative strata records yes and now I WANNA go back to that part of the U._S.. Code I mentioned earlier Congress told the Census Bureau and the Commerce Secretary use administrative records first before you ask questions. That's what the court says Secretary Ross violated so that's on the law. The idea is for Census and commerce always being look at for administrative records that allow them to not ask a question. <hes> you mentioned a couple of minutes ago <hes> some legislation way back in seventeen seventeen ninety on the census <hes> right now congresswoman Maloney has the vice chair of our committee has a bill called the census idea act which calls for three years of testing and research before any question could be added to the census. Does that seem. I'm like reasonable methodology. Do you think that would be <hes> a prudent way of going about things so the insights association was <hes> an endorser of endorsed the idea act <hes>. We think it's a good approach. Actually there've been there've been a variety media different kinds of bills on this issue and I think the congresswoman's is probably the best approach because there are a couple of others that just simply wanted to forbid the asking of US citizenship question forever which we don't agree with because what we wanted to ask next time you know and again it's and I think the census idea gets to the point of adequate testing. I don't know I don't pretend to know enough to be able to say what the right amount of testing and the right number of years of preparation is but I think that that's certainly on the right track and it sounds like like the way the Census Bureau would not to approach adding any kind of question so that's why yeah we endorsed it. I approve and I support the legislation and the legend of the fact that legislations needed indicates failure on the part of the commerce secretary to to adhere to the Census Bureau statistical quality guidelines to to adhere to own bees paperwork reduction at guidelines until end to adhere here to the National Academies Principles Practices the Federal Statistically sees all three call for extensive testing and clearly the <HES> secretary ignored all that so the only none of them are in law and the only recourse is to put that in law to ensure that <hes> testing happens the way it should have and that concludes the second episode of of the economic explainer with the J._C.. Democrats I'm Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and today we talked about the importance of an accurate census. If the trump administration succeeds an adding us as ship question to the survey we will live with the fallout for a decade and if there is only one thing you take away from today's episode. I hope it's that incomplete count would hurt businesses and undermine.

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