Press Briefing -- June 8, 2000
|STEVE JOST: ... has been doing for almost a year now on the status of census
operations, and we're going to provide you with an update on where we are as of today
with our National Non-response Follow-Up efforts and other census operations.
My name is Steve Jost. I'm with the Communications Office at the Census
Bureau. I think most of you have been through this experience before. But as you know,
we have reporters who will call in on the phone from around the country. We ask, after
the director's opening remarks, that you identify yourself and your affiliation if you have
a question, and we'll alternate with questions in the room to those on the phone.
And just one announcement of a housekeeping nature. Our next operational press
briefing of this kind is scheduled for next Tuesday, the 14th, at 11 A.M. And Maury,
we'll be in what? What's our location for that?
Here in Salon F on the 14th. Is that a Wednesday? Wednesday. Thank you.
And with that, I give you Director Prewitt.
DIRECTOR OF THE U.S. CENSUS, DR. KENNETH PREWITT: Thank you and
good morning. I will cover a few topics and then, obviously, take whatever questions you
may have. I have to start with a warning. I cannot give you any bad news today. I
appreciate that sometimes that makes it easier to write. I have, unfortunately, no bad news
to report. Indeed, I think it's fair to characterize this census as "the good census," and I
will try to demonstrate that a bit.
I am fresh from a trip to half a dozen different areas where I talked to a large
number of people engaged in the census, many of our workers, of course, maybe half a
dozen different local offices. I also helped enumerate in Section 8 housing. I met with an
immigrant group, the Somalis, in Columbus. And I'd like to talk at the conclusion of my
opening comments a bit more about that, because it was really quite revealing, for me, a
trip at this stage in the census.
But first, just a few highlights of Census 2000.
We do have a month to go in the operation that we call Non-Response Follow-Up,
which is the enumerator phase of the census. And, as of today, with yet a month to go, we
are 93 percent completed with our Non-Response Follow-Up workload. That means we
have 3.1 million of our initial 42 million housing units yet to visit.
When you add that to the mail-back response, that means that we're now ahead of
1990, or slightly more than 97 percent completed as of June 7th of all of our workload for
these current operations. We obviously have other operations. I'll mention those in a
To give you some idea of why we are willing to characterize this today as a "good
census," if you compare the 1990 number, on June 1st - and we can only compare to June
1st because that's the way the data were collected in 1990 - on June 1st of 1990, we were
at 61 percent complete with our Non-Response Follow-Up workload, and on the
equivalent day, June 1st, 2000, we were at 82 percent. And there's no reason to think that
that differential hasn't carried from June 1st to June 7th, but I don't have equivalent June
7th data for 1990.
Just to repeat that. In 1990 on June 1st, we had completed approximately
60 percent of the workload and, on the same date in 2000, we had completed better than
80 percent of the workload. So the entire system is simply well ahead of what we
expected, well ahead of what we planned for, and needless to say, to be 97 percent
complete of all of our workload on these operations at this stage is, for us, very good
Indeed, about a third of our 520 offices are in their final stages. They're
completing work on the Non-Response Follow-Up phase, and, indeed, three of our whole
regions are in the last percent or so of the Non-Response Follow-Up workload. Six states
are now at 100 percent - Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nevada, Utah, Montana,
with another state, Nebraska, right on the verge of 100 percent completing the Non-Response Follow-Up workload.
In the areas where we're not there yet, we have stepped up our radio and TV ads
in selected markets to further motivate the public. And, of course, in certain areas, we
continue to recruit - as I've said so often, this is a process where you recruit until you're
finished. And I'll talk a bit more about recruitment in a second.
Other major highlights. We have now scanned in our questionnaires for over
100 million addresses, and that includes 20 million enumerator forms. I pause on that
because, if you've seen any of the enumerators at work in the field, you appreciate that
sometimes they're working under difficult conditions, which is to say they've got hold of
their forms in their hands, and they're sort of thumbing through and they're trying to take
the answers down, and maybe it's raining or it's snowing in some parts, or it's been
muddy or whatever.
So we worried a lot about whether our enumerated forms would scan as well as
the ones that were simply mailed back in this nice clean envelope. And our accuracy rates
for our enumerator-scanned forms are exactly what they were for our mail-in forms, and
that's an enormously important small little item because we simply did not know. We
tried to field-test this as best we could, but not until you start getting millions and
millions and millions and millions, which you do in the census environment, can you
know for certain.
Now, obviously - just one other highlight. I want to say our Accuracy and
Coverage Evaluation is one of our next big field operations, many of you know, has
already been initiated over the phone, and our personal visits will begin later this month
on a flow basis. We do expect to complete that in September, and we've now completed
approximately 90,000 cases in our Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation survey.
All of this is what, I think, gives us some pause or some cause to pause and
declare this, at least as of now, to be a good census.
Now, I don't want, as always, to ignore the fact that we do have to take corrective
action in a number of areas. We've identified a small number of LCOs, where the
operations still need attention, where we want to sustain the momentum or build
momentum. They're not at a point where we would like them to be at this stage. And in
those areas where we're lagging behind the overall national response rate, we have taken
very strong steps. We've added more enumerators. We've authorized overtime. We've
purchased spot television ads. We have extended, for example, radio ads for four weeks
in about 180 of our largest and medium-sized cities, created a public service
announcement in English and Spanish, which we will be feeding to 93 markets around
the country under the general title "There's Still Time to be Counted."
So even though we're, overall, in extremely good shape, we don't for a moment
relent in terms of trying to make certain that we do it in every community across the
Indeed, this last week, I was able to visit, as I say, a number of places. I was in
Baltimore, where the mayor, Mayor O'Malley, and I had a press conference, along with
Congressman Cummings, and where the mayor announced a major June Non-Response
Follow-Up campaign, including using sound trucks, public meetings, targeted mailings,
Yesterday, I met with Mayor Daley in Chicago. The city has also pledged money
for radio and TV ads and been very supportive in promoting the census, and even having
rallies as we are speaking. Congressman Gutierrez went door-to-door in his district
encouraging residents to cooperate.
Earlier in the week, this week, I was in Milwaukee, where I met with Mayor
Norquist and Congressman Barrett. Again, a major rally event and meeting with the other
leaders, including representatives from the governor's office to continue to maintain our
momentum in Milwaukee.
Then, last week, I also was in Columbus, Ohio, met again with local leaders and
with Ken Blackwell, of the Census Monitoring Board, and together, we went and visited
the Somali community to make certain we got a complete count there.
Which is to say, as you well know, we've had this strong partnership with local
leaders and community action groups, and we will sustain those partnerships every place
we need them in order to finish this in the remaining 30 days.
Rather quickly, on other operations, there is an operation we call Coverage Edit
Follow-Up, which is in the field and it stays in the field through all of June and July. And
this is an important operation for us because, as you know, sometimes you get forms back
in which there's a discrepancy between the number of people who are written on the form
as belonging to that household, and the number of individuals identified on the form. And
we use this process to correct for those discrepancies.
Also, any form that we get in where there are as many as six people, we go back
and double check it because, if it says six, we know you can only identify six persons in a
household - that's all the form allows - and so we go back to all of those households to
make certain that there aren't other people who they simply left off or ignored because
they didn't have a way to give them their complete information.
So this Coverage Edit Follow-Up process is really to make certain that we get
everyone we can in all of the households. We have some reason to think it makes sense to
do that work. We do that work on the telephone.
We have about 2.2 million households in that category and we finished about
300,000 already. And, as I say, we run that through all of June and July, so we're easily
on schedule with that program.
Another major activity is our Coverage Improvement Follow-Up work, which we
start on a flow basis. That will start in the field - it's a field operation - on July 6. I've
briefly described it before and I'll just be brief today. It's primarily designed to improve
coverage of housing units that may have been inaccurately classified as vacant or
nonexistent in an earlier census operation. As you know, we start with our Master
Address File. That's our control file. And sometimes, the enumerator will come in with a
report that says that house is vacant or it's not there anymore.
Well, we go back out and double check that. We double check it both in our
quality assurance program, but also as a major field operation. And this operation, by the
way, which we call Coverage Improvement Follow-Up, CIFU - forgive me for yet
another acronym - and it sort of sweeps up a lot of the stuff, like that vacant/delete issue.
That's where we do the new construction.
We just talked to the city of Chicago yesterday. They really believe there's been a
lot of illegal conversions in recent months. And so they think buildings which were not
inhabited when we did our Master Address File are now inhabited, and obviously, if we
can now get those addresses, we will put those addresses in this process. So it's an
opportunity to go out and make one more shot at making certain that we do contact every
resident, every residential household in the country.
And, as I say, it will be approximately 8.2 million housing units, and we will be in
the field starting July 6th, and we will do that on a flow basis, and that will take a good
part of July and August to complete.
Finally, we are updating our address list, even as we go. We have our "Be
Counted" forms, our Telephone Questionnaire Assistance program, persons reporting
usual home elsewhere. And we have to geocode all of those responses back to our Master
Address File. There are approximately 2.7 million of those addresses. We've now
processed about two thirds of them, and have successfully either electronically matched
them or, in some instances, clerically matched them, and so we're well under way to
resolving any discrepancies between our address file and these additional new addresses.
And, then, as I said, we do continue to recruit. Indeed, overall, we've tested
3.6 million people, applicants, of whom we've concluded to be about 2.6 million. And
indeed, we continue to be at 100 percent of our recruitment goals across all of our regions
with one very small exception that's slightly under 100 percent today, but they are still
recruiting there. By the time the day is over, they may well be over 100. But basically,
across the country, we continue to be 100 percent equipped to finish up the work.
On average, we've maintained payroll at about 492,000 persons per week, and our
rich applicant pool allows us to keep going.
Just one other small footnote for those particularly interested in the language
program, we have about 1 million foreign-language forms. About 100,000 of those came
from our "Be Counted" program and, of course, about 900,000, slightly more than that,
came from our language assistance program. Most of them, of course, in Spanish. About
765,000 were Spanish, and then Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese. All of those
have now been processed successfully.
Finally, as I said, we have now started the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation
program, about which I'm sure we will talk more in the next several months. And the
telephone part of that is under way and we are very pleased with the quality of the work
that is currently being done. And there, as I say, we've processed about 90,000 cases,
which is about 28 percent of our total workload.
I want to just draw your attention to one other thing. There have been some very
nice press stories that we characterize as "census heroes" press stories and, indeed, people
helping residents give birth, census workers themselves giving birth and then going back
to work, census workers dealing with very difficult circumstances and situations out in
the community - the angry-dog phenomenon, etc. I've read about a number of other kinds
of animal situations. An enumerator the other day helped - in a farm area - to deliver a
foal while making her rounds in Illinois.
And I want to just use that to explain something because I saw it so much out in
the field this last week. When you ask me why is it a good census, what explains the fact
that, with all of this cynicism in the country, with all of the problems of response rates for
all kinds of civic responsibilities and so forth, what do we come up with as an explanation
We're still dealing with real opposition out there. This is a thing that's being put
on doors in various parts of the country, or at least I'm not sure where, but they're
somewhere. "Census workers are not welcome here. Do not knock." And simply put in
your sex and your age right here, and that's all the census director or the census taker has
a right to get from you.
So we are still dealing with serious resistance, some of which is, as in this case,
organized. And, therefore, I do want to come up with some sort of explanation of how,
despite all of this, despite the cynicism, the indifference, the difficulties, we're prepared
to say that it is, as of now, a good census. And it is in part heavily attributable to the
enormous energy and commitment that's true of these several hundred thousands of
temporary workers. You simply cannot go into these offices and not get infected with
enthusiasm and commitment.
Now, there's a sociological theory for this. There was a very important book
called "The American Soldier," written after the Second World War, and the focus of that
book was what explained the way in which fighting units fought. And they went in with a
standard kind of hypothesis. These people were very patriotic to their country. These
people are fearful of a security threat, our soldiers and so forth. These people are fighting
for their loved ones back home. All of those hypotheses failed the test, a serious social
science test. And the finding that came back and came back and came back is they fought
with each other because they were in this together, and, indeed, the word "peer group" got
invented in the analysis of the American soldier data after the Second World War. And it
was simply a commitment to each other. That's what you run into in these offices. You
simply run into people who have become a team, who are really dedicated to doing this
And it's moving. You know, they didn't know each other. They're just randomly
collected from the various neighborhoods in the various communities, and they get into
those offices. They take on this challenge and, my gosh, they're going to do it.
I was in an office in the Near South of Chicago yesterday, which is very close to
being completed. In fact, they hoped to be able to complete it before I got there, and they
were within a half a percent and they were working very hard so they could say to the
director - I was very pleased that they didn't complete because they completed it the next
day and I could take credit for it. The director goes to an office, it finishes its work the
But as the Chicago Tribune wrote it up, it was almost like a revival. They were
just on their feet, clapping, hugging each other, shouting. It was really just great. And I
think part of what has made it work has been that kind of engagement in this task. It's
not just the operations, it turns out to be these enumerators, and why they finally cared for
their communities. And I think the fact that we heavily recruited out of the communities
so they saw the benefits, understood both the resources and the representation and so
forth just made them care about their communities and they knocked on those doors and
knocked on those doors and knocked on those doors until they got every one of them to
open, one way or the other. Even if they finally couldn't get them to open dealing with
these kinds of problems, then they did do whatever else they had to do. They went to the
neighbors. They went to the building managers. They simply didn't quit until they got the
information as best they could.
So I think my explanation for why this is a good census is, first, the enormous
enthusiasm and commitment and dedication. And part of what happens, of course, in
something like this - you hire a lot of people. And you know, you've been writing the
stories, there is attrition. People leave. But that means what you're left with are the people
who stick it out, who want to do it.
And so, by this stage of the census, you're dealing with your most dedicated and
your most experienced people. And when I say that we make corrections for areas that are
less far along than other areas, that includes moving people around, taking the best people
from one part of Chicago and putting them in another. We've moved people even across
the country in order to strengthen the operations.
But the other thing I want to say is that we underestimated the lingering effect of
the advertising and the partnership program. We made a lot of noise about that, of course,
talked about it endlessly during the mail-back period, counted on it to boost the mail-back
response rate, and it happened, as we all know. But we simply didn't understand that
there was going to be a residue of that. So even today, we are getting questionnaires
mailed back in, and we're certainly getting people who are opening the door who are
willing to cooperate - not everywhere. We do run into those hard cases at the end of this
kind of operation. But if you simply think of these visual in the rooms - you know, you
started with the promotional campaign, and the advertising campaign and that's what that
marvelous poster of the Indian girl reflects. You know, then you go to the form and then
you go to the mail-back period, and you scan the data. You begin to process it, and then
you go to Non-Response Follow-Up.
But there's a reason that we did it this way and it's to remind us all that
advertising, promotional partnership campaign that was going on so heavily in the
country in January, February and March had an echo effect that continues, I believe, to
help explain why we're well ahead of where we were in 1990.
And then, just to make sense of this for our country and make sense of this as a
civic mobilization effort, we need to keep that in mind. We literally underestimated it.
We did not believe that it would have that much of a lingering effect. And that's the only
thing I can come up with, that plus, obviously, the enumerator spirit and commitment.
And that doesn't surprise me as a social scientist who knows about how groups form and
why they get enthusiastic about their tasks and so forth.
But what I think we did underestimate was the degree to which the American
people would continue, basically, to cooperate with this effort right down to the wire.
So, sorry for that little homily, but I was so moved by my experience in the offices
that I can't resist sharing it with you.
So, I am open to your questions.
QUESTION: Some of the Republicans in Congress, including the chairman of the
Census Subcommittee, have expressed a concern that some of the enumerators may have
relied too much on what's called proxy data from neighbors and so forth. Are you
tracking how much use there is of proxy data, as opposed to actual interviews? And are
there any areas where that's a concern?
PREWITT: The answer to whether we're tracking it is no. And this is why. It
isn't because we won't track it. We will certainly track it, but we don't track it during the
process. That is, when we complete the census, we give a very full report of the number
of questionnaires that will have been completed by a proxy interview.
And we simply don't do it in the process because there are lots of reasons. We're
actually still doing the census and we wanted to finish the operations and we don't want
to stop and do operations that are not germane to the immediate task of making sure we
But let me just say a word or two. I certainly have some anecdotal evidence.
There's no doubt but what we will use proxies in this census, as we will always use
proxies. And I'll give you an anecdote. I was in a Southern city the other day with a crew
leader, and we went to a house. This particular house was clearly inhabited and the
woman who answered the door when the first enumerator came said, "I'm not going to
cooperate." And so we then shifted the case to a different enumerator, hoping that a
different enumerator would have better luck.
And the second enumerator went. And she wasn't home. And the second
enumerator went back the third time, and she was there again, and she says, "Well, I'm
too busy. Sorry." Obviously, that's a softening. "I won't cooperate" to "I'm too busy".
We then made our regular three phone calls. And she simply would not be cooperative on
the phone. We then sent yet somebody else back. She wasn't home. I then went back with
a crew leader. This is now the eighth visit and she either isn't home or won't open the
door. We then go to a neighbor and the neighbor says, "I'm sorry. It's not my business to
tell you who's in there so I'm not going to help."
So here we are. We know this house is inhabited. And we cannot get the
information. Now, what do we do?
It turns out, with respect to this house, a person who is in our administration in the
office, who does payroll, lives across the street, and she knows this family very well. She
knows that it's a single mother. She knows approximately her age. She knows she has
two children because her children go to school with those kids across the street. They play
together. She knows their names. She knows their ages. She knows their ethnicity, their
race. She knows she owns this house. She knows all of the short form data. Now, that's a
proxy interview. But it's much, much better than simply recording that as a vacant house
because we know that's not true. We know there's someone there.
And so, there will be many instances of that where we would much prefer to get
proxy data - especially good reliable proxy data - than no data.
You recall the exchange at Supreme Court hearing when, I believe it was Justice
Breyer, who said, "Well, if the lights go out and you know somebody's there, what do
you do?" Well, actually, what you do is you go to proxy. You know someone is there, and
if somebody won't answer the door, then you do get the best information you can.
So, I am not at all defensive about the fact that the Census Bureau will, in those
cases, use proxies. And I've got dozens and dozens of anecdotes of those kinds of stories
where, in those cases, we will go to proxy data because we would much prefer to have
some data about the household composition than no data, which is our option.
Sorry, a long answer, but I know we're going to be talking about the proxy data a
lot over the next month or so, and we simply are unable to tabulate its current rate.
For one thing, you know, you've got duplicate problems. You've got all kinds of
things that are going on in the data file until we've cleaned it up and made certain we
know exactly what we're talking about. We will tabulate the proxy file probably by
QUESTION: Follow-up. Do the local offices have a hand in this?
PREWITT: No. They - sorry.
QUESTION: So, I guess, what safeguards are there to make sure that there's not
overuse of it and that somebody isn't supervising to make sure enumerators aren't taking
an easy way out?
PREWITT: Yes. Well, that our quality assurance program does. After all, not to
forget, we sample 5 percent of every enumerator's work every day. And if we pick up a
pattern of proxies that is, we think, out of line with what it should be - if we go back and
find out, my goodness, this person was quite willing to give us the information - don't
forget, we redo every bit of that enumerator's work.
So we would do that on an enumerator-by-enumerator basis. We do not believe - I
don't want to characterize, to accept quite the premise of your question, which is, at what
point is it too much. The point at which it's too much is only if you could have gotten the
data without it. Then, we would prefer the resident do the data themselves. But when I
compare proxy data to no data, there is no such thing as too much. By definition, you
want data on every household, and so we don't have a magic number that says it is too
We certainly do a quality assurance process to make certain that any given
enumerator is not taking the easy way out, and that we would, of course, put a stop to.
JOST: We'll go to the phones. Phil Lamos (ph) of the Hartford Courant. Phil, are
you with us? On the telephone, Phil Lamos of the Hartford Courant.
QUESTION: Hi, you guys there?
JOST: Yes, go ahead, Phil.
In Connecticut, we've seen some complaints from Post Office box holders that
they still haven't been contacted by the census. And I understand your policy of not
mailing to P.O. boxes because you want to find out where people live as opposed to
where they actually get their mail.
QUESTION: I have a two-part question. I wanted to play devil's advocate here for
a sec and just ask if you've ever considered just mailing to Post Office boxes and simply
asking them to put their home address on the census form and not put a Post Office box
or if you felt that would be too problematic?
And the second question is what assurances can you give the Post Office box
people that the door-to-door people will reach them?
PREWITT: Yes, it's a fair question. Let me do the first part of it.
When we encountered this condition where we thought these were city-style
addresses, we had city-style addresses, but it turns out the local post office did not do any
city-style delivery, and indeed put them - they only had the post offices - where we
could, we went and retrieved them and hand-delivered them ourselves. We could not do
all of them. We did as many as we could in those circumstances.
These are anomalies. Just so everyone understands: what the census has is
addresses which it calls "inside the blue line" and "outside the blue line." Inside the blue
line are city-style addresses, where we mail the questionnaire. What we encountered
around the country was that there were pockets within the blue line which turned out not
to have city-style delivery situations. Indeed, it's a community for some reason within the
city areas which gets its mail at a local post office. So, when we sent those questionnaires,
they could not be delivered to the household because the Post Office didn't deliver them,
but we did not know that until they came back.
So, what we did was, where we could, hand-deliver them. Where we couldn't, we
simply then put these in the Non-Response Follow-Up process.
The first part of your question is why, then, we did not go ahead and send them to
the Post Office box and simply instruct people to make certain that they put their address
down very quickly so that we could geocode it. A perfectly fair question. And the real
answer to that is one of the reasons this census has been successful is we made a very,
very firm decision not to try to invent new operations in the middle of it. And what has
gone wrong with previous censuses is, when you run into these anomalies, you suddenly
try to create a new operation to fix it. And in creating that new operation, in the enormous
pressure of doing this census and doing it right, you run the risk of making a mistake.
And it's been our judgment that we're much better off sticking with our design,
even though we recognize these anomalies, than trying to introduce major new operations
in the middle of the census. That's the real answer. It's not that that's a bad idea. In fact,
it's a perfectly understandable idea.
But in the larger scope of trying to run this operation, every time you try to write
new software in a hurry, you try to get new kinds of assignments, you try to get addresses
some place that they didn't use to be, every time you do that, you run the risk of creating
bigger problems than you're solving.
With respect to the second part of your question, we are actually very confident
that we will get to all of those addresses. They are on our Master Address File, and since
we do go to every one of the addresses on our Master Address File, we will continue to
I reminded you a minute ago that we still have 3 million households yet to visit,
and some of those households will be among that 3 million. And if they're not part of our
Master Address File, we still have this subsequent process, this CIFU process, where
we're still trying to add any addresses that make sense.
So, I don't want to be 100 percent certain of anything, but I am very confident that
these housing units will be visited by a census taker before we're finished.
JOST: Yes, sir, right up front here.
QUESTION: ...with Fox News.
I wonder if you can talk to us a bit about the response rates from upper income
communities and the problems of getting enumerators into some gated communities.
There was a report yesterday suggesting Malibu, for example, California, 15 percent
below. How much of a problem is this? How much of a problem was caused, perhaps, by
some Republican concerns about the intrusiveness of the questionnaire and the suggestion
from Majority Leader Lott that people simply not return it?
PREWITT: The gated community phenomenon is an interesting phenomenon, and
what's happened in this society generally is that people are putting more and more
barriers between them - themselves, their households -- and anything else. So the
proportion of unlisted phone numbers in the country has simply gone up: the number of
people who have mail forwarding and, then, of course, the number of people who have
guards or other kinds of gated community phenomena, where they simply are protecting
their household from any kind of intrusion. And, so, that sets up a set of barriers for us.
And the Census Bureau, therefore, has to figure out a way to get through and around
those barriers. They're not different from barriers - they're different in kind from other
kinds of barriers, just like the barriers in linguistically isolated communities. You have to
figure out a way to get through there.
We knew those were there. We do have special procedures in place. We did
expect a somewhat higher mail-back response rate from some of those communities than
we got. We got very high mail-back response rates from them, so we're always talking
about the difference between what we would have liked to have had and what happened.
It's not because - we did not have low mail-back response rates. I don't know the Malibu
response rate in my head, but I know some other areas, which are characterized as gated-community areas, and you start with a high mail-back, which means the total number that
you have to get in Non-Response Follow-Up is still pretty small. That is the absolute
Nevertheless, these have presented exceptional challenges. And we are busily,
even as of today, working out particular strategies. We just worked out a nice one
yesterday in Chicago with Mayor Daley that we think will work in that community. And
that has to do with actually using the offices of the mayor to talk to the building managers
and keep reminding them how important this census is.
These building managers in guarded communities are paid to keep people from
getting into that building. It's what they're paid to do. And unless somebody can sort of
convince them that's not what they're going to do in this particular instance, that's what
they are going to do. And, of course, we're census-takers. We're not enforcement
officers. All we can do is come and try to plead and so forth. And they say - "My job is to
keep you out, sorry." Therefore, what we're doing is working.
We did this also in Baltimore; did this in Chicago, working with the leadership
that says, "Look, talk to the building managers. Tell them how important this is." What
we're doing in Chicago - very innovative - we have something in our processes called
cultural facilitators. Now cultural facilitators are people whom we thought we would be
using and have been using in places like the colonies in southwest Texas.
We swear these cultural facilitators in. They become sworn - not employees, we
don't pay them - but we actually swear them in terms of Title 13 confidentiality
protections - and then they either go with or go ahead of the enumerators and justify our
presence. And we did not expect to have, quote-unquote, "cultural facilitators" in very
wealthy high-rises in the Near North of Chicago. But lo and behold, if you think of these
buildings as their own culture, then we can justify swearing in the building managers as
cultural facilitators. They then go to the door or walk the hallways and say, "Look ...," or
put notices up that say the census-taker will be coming through tomorrow. "I'm letting
you know. It's very safe. It's very secure. We've worked this out. We believe this is
important," and so forth. So that's what we're doing.
In other places, we've realized, of course, the people who have the best access to
the gated communities are the house workers, the servants, and so we are making some of
them enumerators because they're there. And so they become regular enumerators and
they then know which households - and they're recognized in the hallways, so no one is
worried about strangers in their hallways.
So we do lots of things. All of which is to say it is a challenge, but it's not a
challenge that we don't believe that we will easily surmount in the remaining four weeks.
QUESTION: Do you find a lower response rate from people at the upper end of
the income scale?
PREWITT: Well, we don't have precise data on that. I mean our response rate
data is only being collected right now at the census tract level, and it's actually using
census tract information from 1990. We haven't begun to do that kind of analysis. It's
only anecdotal. We can't do systematic analysis yet of who's really responding in 2000.
I can tell you that, if you're at 97 percent completed across the country, you don't
have a particularly low response rate for any group because you couldn't be at 97 percent
if that were the case. So you're really talking about very small differentials. And it's very
easy to take a case like maybe Malibu. I haven't read about that case; I did read about
some Dallas cases; I was just yesterday in Chicago. It's very easy to take a few small
cases and think that this is a generic problem. It's a --
QUESTION: Well, with that amount of money represented in a small percentage
of the population, you could have a high non-response rate from 2 percent of the
population and still be - have a 97 percent ...
PREWITT: Oh, certainly. Oh, you're absolutely right. But we haven't done that
kind of analysis yet. As I say, the only systematic response rate we have is based at the
census tract level, which are fairly large units.
JOST: Speaking of Chicago, we'll go to the phones and Evan Osnos of the
QUESTION: I'm interested in staying on the privacy question for a second.
Earlier on, of course, there were conservative lawmakers who raised the issue.
And I'm interested in finding out whether their own objections to the census have seemed
to have had any effect in their own home districts, in their home territory, whether
response rates or general levels of cooperation on their home turfs have been comparable
or lower or higher than across the country.
PREWITT: Well, let me remind you that, to my knowledge, no political leader in
the country did other than recommend cooperation with the census. Some of the political
conversation was about the long form and some of the questions on the long form. And
indeed, to my knowledge, every political leader who spoke out on the long form also said,
"But we strongly encourage all of our residents to cooperate with the census, to complete
the form. If you feel a particular question you shouldn't answer, then we understand that."
I happen to believe, as you know, because I've said so many times publicly, that's not the
best message. This is not a pick-and-choose exercise. Every question is put there by law,
and so forth. But nevertheless, I have no reason whatsoever to think that particular - I
don't want to say suggestion, but recognition of some of the concerns about some of the
questions - led to any lower levels of cooperation. I do think some of the other systematic
attempts of the sort that I just described - you can't see it, of course, on the phone - I held
up this thing earlier and it basically says - big notices - "Census workers are not welcome
here. Do not knock." And then it goes on to say, "This is all you need to know or are
entitled to ask." And it says, "Person one, sex, age; person two, sex, age." And so forth
down to person six, and their sex and their age. And of course, this is false. This is untrue.
This is not all that we are expected to get from the American people.
So I think that kind of campaign is problematic.
On the other hand, we are continuing to get cooperation. I am pleased that, in a
recent court ruling in Houston, where there was a suit brought against the Census Bureau
on the privacy question, the intrusiveness question, the judge ruled strongly in our favor
that these questions are not intrusive and that they are supposed to be asked.
JOST: Bob, in the back.
QUESTION: Bob Rosenblatt, L.A. Times.
On the question of the long form and the short, if someone fills out only the first
six questions and does not fill out the rest because of a recommendation from a
congressman or anyone else, does - do you then give that form to an enumerator and say
get the rest of the questions or what do you do with it? I've been getting contradictory
answers when I call census people. Some of your folks have told me we give it to an
enumerator. It goes out into the field, and other folks said, no. We - I'm not sure what
you do if you only have six questions out of 40-something answered. And can you clarify
how that's working?
PREWITT: Yes, and I do apologize if we don't sound entirely consistent on this
because our policy is very consistent. We cannot - do not have an operation that would
allow us to look at a questionnaire, determine that it was incomplete and then send
someone back out in the field to complete that questionnaire. We simply are not doing
that in the census process at all.
What we do - and these are the processes I described quickly earlier - we do look
at a questionnaire and if it comes in and it says there are seven people or three people or
29 people living here, and there's no information on it, we go back to that household to
say - well, who are these people. Because we can't just simply take a number and stick it
into the census file. We have to be able to determine that there are people in that
residence. However, a very small amount of information allows us to make that
determination. If we get the surname and the age or the age and the sex and the race, if we
have a good address, and we have some information that someone is there - and this goes
back even to the proxy issue - if someone can say, I know there to be three people there.
I know them to have the following genders or following rough ages or the following race
and ethnic characteristics and so forth, then we know someone is there and we put them
in the census count.
But at this stage, indeed, at no stage would the Census Bureau be able to do what
we would call following up on item non-response. We will simply make the best that we
can with whatever the quality of the data are that come in.
I believe, as I said before, what we're most concerned about in terms of the attack
on the long form questions - we're most concerned about the quality of the data, not the
overall response. We think we will still have good coverage of the population. We will
try to count everyone, but we may well end up with less robust data than we believe the
country and, indeed, the U.S. Congress wants out of this Census 2000.
But is that clear, Bob? I know there's been some confusion - but absolutely, we
do not go back and complete the questionnaire, except we go back and complete enough
of it to make certain that our count is correct.
QUESTION: When will you be able to tell us whether the data is, indeed, robust
PREWITT: We will not be able to do a lot of that work until much later this year
and early next year. When I say that we've already captured 93 million questionnaires,
those include the short-form questions from the long form. We are very concerned about
whether we have enough information from each one of those questionnaires that came in
to make certain that there are people there. If we don't have enough information, that's
when we go back into the field in these other operations.
So that's why we're now capturing the information. We're not even looking at the
non-short form questions on the long form. We just won't even know that. It could all be
blank. It could all be filled in. It won't make any difference to us at this stage. The only
thing that makes a difference to us at this stage is we've got a household, so many people
there, is that the right number of people?
JOST: Back to the phones. We'll go to Frank McCoy (ph) at U.S. News & World
QUESTION: To boost their federal funding and congressional representation,
some Southern states want visiting snowbirds to switch their residency. Consequently, the
states have used marketing campaigns ...
... most of the year. And how are you following up on snowbirds who weren't in
their primary residence on April 1?
PREWITT: Well, we actually try to find everyone, of course, where they were on
April 1. But the question that we ask them is what was your primary residence on April 1.
It need not be where you are. And indeed, many people could be in their second home.
They could be snowbirds. But they consider their primary address to be someplace else.
We have to rely - like so many parts of the census - we have to rely on the report
that people give to us. And we try to make this instruction quite clear. We want to know
what is your primary residence. Now, the snowbird phenomenon is a complicated
phenomenon for this society because what some of the governors and the mayors are
saying is, "Look, we have them half the time, and we have to provide half of their
services. But they're only counted once, and they're counted in Detroit instead of
Tallahassee or Tallahassee instead of Detroit, or what have you."
The real solution to that, as a matter of fact, is what we call the American
Community Survey. The American Community Survey, which I won't describe in detail
now, does take the long-form data and spreads it across a sample, an ongoing sample that
we hope to start in 2003, approximately 3 million households a year, which after five
years is now 15 million households, which is roughly the number we get on long-form
responses now, so it's the same robust sample, but it's on a continuous basis.
That particular questionnaire is designed to, in effect, allocate people to different
residences, proportionate to how much time they spend in those residences. So we will
actually solve this problem. And it's a much, much more powerful way to collect
information about a population that's highly mobile. It won't solve it for redistricting and
reapportionment purposes because that person can only be in one place for those
purposes. But for federal funding purposes, other social planning purposes, it's a much,
much more intelligent way to collect the data. And we do hope the American Community
Survey is the next major innovation that the Census Bureau launches, but that does, of
course, depend upon congressional authorization.
Is that a fair and adequate enough answer? I know it's a complicated question.
Lost him anyway.
JOST: Yes, right back here.
QUESTION: Thanks. Marina Abonne (ph) with National Public Radio.
Can you tell me, does the better-than-expected success of doing the head count
boost the argument of those who say the sampling isn't needed?
PREWITT: It's very, very important to understand that, when I say we're 97
percent completed our workload across the country, that what we are measuring is we
start with an address file. That's our control file. And when I say we're 97 percent
completed, that means 97 percent of the addresses we now have a form back from or
we've determined that it is vacant.
That does not tell us anything about the quality of coverage. And the Accuracy
and Coverage Evaluation has to do with coverage, which is to say we may have gotten a
perfectly legitimate form back and it said there are two people living here and they simply
left their kids off. We know that happened in 1990. We expect some of that is happening
The Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation is a mechanism to make sure we have
complete coverage, not did we get a form from every household. So they're really quite
separate phenomena. So the 97 percent completion has to do with our address file, but not
of the population count. We will not know the accuracy of the population count until after
we do the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation because there's no other way to know it.
You know there's an address there. You know you've got a form back from it, but
you don't know if that form accurately reflects the number of people who were living at
that household on April 1st and that's what we do with this other process.
QUESTION: What's your reaction, then, to the legislation passed this week in the
New Jersey House where they decided to use unadjusted census figures in redistricting?
PREWITT: The Census Bureau's obligation is to give the country the most accurate data it's capable of doing. You've been following the census very closely now, many of you. You know that's not an easy task. There are a lot of complicated things going on in this country as we try to get these data. We strongly believe that, by doing this Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation and matching that back to the original census records, and then making the adjustments as appropriate, depending upon what we find, it is more accurate data.
Now, that's the Census Bureau's job. If the legislatures in different states or the
courts in different states decide they don't want to use the most accurate data, the Census
Bureau says, "Good, we gave it to you, but it's your choice how to use it." So we actually
don't have a position on that. Our strong position is it's our job as the statistical agency to
conduct a census, design and conduct a census that we will believe to provide the best
possible estimate of the population.
Just another word or two on this. Any statistic is an estimate of the truth. You
know, none of us will know the true number of people in the United States on April 1st,
whether it's 235,311,000 or what have you. The census is an estimate of that count. And
we believe that the estimate, which is improved by the Accuracy and Coverage
Evaluation, is a closer approximation to the truth than the original estimate that comes out
of the enumeration process. And we believe that on very, very sound grounds. And we'll
be talking about that more, of course, in the next several weeks.
JOST: Back to the telephones. Amos Brown with the Indianapolis Record.
QUESTION: Yes, good morning, Director Prewitt.
Chicago seems - the Chicago region seems to have made a very strong recovery in
Non-Response Follow-Up. Indianapolis is the second largest market and second largest
city and we are getting - it's very difficult for us to get information on how Indianapolis
has done in Non-Response Follow-Up. Can you help?
PREWITT: Certainly. Not now, but I can help you when I get back to the office. I
can say that about 10 percent of our local offices are at 80 percent or lower completed for
Non-Response Follow-Up with a month to go. I do know that there are no offices in
Indiana that fall into that number, which means I have no reason to think that there's a
particular problem in Indiana at all or Indianapolis.
QUESTION: In other words - yeah, because you've visited Milwaukee, where
there were problems, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, just kind of flew over Indiana. And as
you're describing the overall census as a good census, and you're at 97 percent of the
addresses reached, the people of Indianapolis would like to know where we stand. Are we
at 97? Are we close to 100? Are we slightly below that?
Because we would - I think the community would like to know how well they
have participated in this good census.
PREWITT: Yes, certainly. As I say, I don't have all 520 local offices in front of
me. All I can assert without qualification is that I know you're at 80 percent or higher, but
you could be at 95 percent or higher. I simply don't know that number, but when we get
back to the office in a bit, I'll be happy to talk to you about it.
QUESTION: We would like to know. If it's good news about a good census, we'd
like to report it.
PREWITT: Good. No problem.
JOST: We have to get this down for history.
QUESTION: I'd like to follow up on the question about the short form - the long-form, short-form data you're capturing. Are you finding item non-response on the short-form questions as you're scanning them in? And is that a concern? Is it more than 90?
Can you tell us how much non-response and in what questions?
PREWITT: Again, it's a pretty inadequate answer because the degree to which we
are scanning it now is to ask ourselves the question, "Do we have to go back and try to
get more information from that household?" We're not doing systematic analysis of it. It
goes back to what I tried to say before. At this stage in the census, every one of our
operations is focused upon the current problem, which is Non-Response Follow-Up,
making sure that every household is counted and so forth.
And we have made a determined decision - even though it would be interesting to
us as well as the press and the public, the non-response. But we made a very determined
decision not to deflect our people from the task at hand. And, therefore, we will turn to
that task, as I say, later this summer. So the only level at which we're scanning it is a
level at which the questionnaire gets kicked out if it has insufficient information on it to
be confident that we've got the right count in that household...going back to Bob's
QUESTION: [Off-mike and inaudible.]
PREWITT: Yes. I don't have any reason to think that - I haven't really asked that
question. I have no reason to think that proportion is any higher than 1990. Certainly, no
alarm bells have been set off.
Now, I also think that we have a much, much better process in 2000 of identifying
those questionnaires and going back and doing coverage edits. You see, not everything's
equivalent to 1990, and so it may well be that we end up doing more than we did in
1990 just because we have a better process, not because the data were more defective on
JOST: OK. I think we've got time for two more and we'll finish on the phones
with Sherry Sylvester of the San Antonio Express.
QUESTION: Good morning, Dr. Prewitt.
PREWITT: Good morning.
QUESTION: Just a quick question. I can't see that sign you're holding up, but
does it have a sponsor name on it? You said this was organized.
PREWITT: Yes, the sponsor seems to be the Heartland Institute.
QUESTION: OK. Have you followed those up?
PREWITT: We can certainly have it faxed to you if you're interested.
QUESTION: The other thing I wanted to ask you is the LCOs that are performing
under 80 percent - so that would be about like 55 offices, it sounds like.
PREWITT: It's actually 48.
QUESTION: Forty-eight. Is there a list of those somewhere? Is that public?
PREWITT: Not completely. I don't mind trying to answer specific questions.
Part of it is these numbers shift, you know, every day. For example, if you set the
threshold a little higher, or a little lower, as the case may be, depending on how you think
about this - at 70 percent workload completed, or less than 70 percent completed, we're
only talking about nine offices, and part of what's happened - and can I just say a word
about this - the horse race phenomenon, which we do understand in American society.
We understand the press's interest in this and local mayors' interest in this, and so forth.
The Census Bureau does not see this as a race between one community and another
community, between one state and another state.
The Census Bureau wants to get these data as quickly as possible because they're
better data. That is, we know the closer we get the information to April 1st, the better the
data. And our experience tells us that from time immemorial and all of our systematic
research tells us that. So our sense of trying to complete this task on schedule has to do
with the fact that we end up with better data. But whether, you know, one office or
another office closes earlier or completes this particular phase of the census earlier, is not
for us the issue. The issue is whether the whole system is moving forward at a steady
And I simply don't want a local office manager, who is slightly lower than some
other places, suddenly - and this happens - suddenly, the entire press, not having maybe
anything else to do, decides - oh, my goodness, we've now found this and we'll all
descend on this particular local manager. And suddenly, he's not doing the census
anymore. What he's now doing is explaining to lots and lots of interested people this
So that's why - it's not like it's secret data, and I don't mind trying to specifically
answer a particular question, as I just said about Indianapolis. But I simply don't want to
create the sense that this is a horse race. Every local office is being measured against
where it ought to be at this stage, which is not necessarily marked by the national average.
Let me just give you a couple of examples. I'm sorry to go on for this, but it's important
to understand, it seems to me.
The Denver region. The Denver region, as I read off those states you can tell, is
obviously in very, very good shape today. But now the explanation for that is, in part,
because the Denver region had a very large area of list/enumerate and update/leave, which
means, when it actually started the Non-Response Follow-Up period, it had in place a
trained enumerator staff who had already done these other operations, so they could get
started faster. It isn't - you know, from our point of view, perfectly predictable.
In other areas, like the Chicago region, which did not have list/enumerate or
update/enumerate, we did not have already in place this group of enumerators ready to go.
It took another week or two to get it all organized and move it forward. These were all
perfectly understandable phenomena. So that's why we weren't terribly anxious or
worried. We knew we were going to get the job done.
So that's why the horse-race phenomenon sometimes misses these more subtle
reasons for why some areas are further along right now than other areas.
When the entire system is 20 percent ahead of where it was in 1990, then even a
case which is 20 percent below the national average is still where it ought to be. So we're
not looking at, right now, more than a handful of offices where we believe we now have
to put in extra effort, and that's what we are doing.
A long answer. I'm sorry. I can tell you, as I just said about Indianapolis, because I
do have some lists in front of me, that of those offices which are at 80 percent or lower
completed with Non-Response Follow-Up, San Antonio is not one of them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
JOST: Final question. Anymore? I think - right up front.
QUESTION: Doug Peterson with Nation's Cities Weekly.
I've got some calls from university campuses counting those students and wanting
to make sure that they're on campus, and some concern about - because of the timing of
the census and when the enumerators visited and final exams, that the counts that are
being produced, the group-quarters counts that are being produced on some university
campuses are much lower than the institutional counts and the registration that the
What's the process? What can people do to help that?
PREWITT: Well, I'm afraid I'm not going to be very helpful on that because I
don't have those reports in front of me.
I do know that, in some instances, where we were dealing with vacations on
college campuses and so forth, we did go to administrative records. That is, we did go to
the university authorities and try to use that as a way to complete the count. Certainly, we
can revisit some of those places. I can't tell you in detail, but if the Census Bureau has
reason to believe either there are so many people in that dormitory and our count is short
of that, that's just part of the Non-Response Follow-Up process, and we will continue to
try to get those cases.
QUESTION: [Inaudible; off-mike.]
PREWITT: Well, fair enough. But there are ways in which we can do that, in
effect. As I say, partly going to administrative records, and so forth. And this final sweep,
this Coverage Improvement Follow-Up sweep, as I say, there are a lot of - by definition,
there are some loose ends in something as complicated as the census, and we, as best we
can, take care of all of those loose ends.
So I just don't have any detail on this. I can't believe it's a huge problem or I
would know about it is the point. There may be random instances of dormitories and we
will certainly dig into those and see what we can do about them.
JOST: Okay. Thank you much. And a reminder, next Wednesday, June 14th,
11:00 A.M. in Salon F. Thank you.
[END OF EVENT.]