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Special Census Program

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can Our Community Get Current Population Counts If We Have an Immediate Need?
The Census Bureau provides 2010 Census counts at http://www.census.gov/2010census/. The Census Bureau produces annual population estimates that may be retrieved at http://www.census.gov/popest/.

In addition, beginning in 2013 official census statistics will be posted on the website for Governmental Units that have conducted a Special Census.

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What is a Special Census?
A Special Census is a basic enumeration of population, housing units, and group quarters conducted by the Census Bureau at the request of a governmental unit.* They are conducted on a cost-reimbursable basis. (See "Who pays for a Special Census") The Census Bureau's authority to conduct Special Censuses is specified in Title 13, United States Code, Section 196.

*For Special Census purposes, a governmental unit is defined as the government of any state, county, city, or other political subdivision within a state, or the government of the District of Columbia or the government of any possession or area including political subdivisions, American Indian Reservations, or Alaskan Native villages.

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What is a Partial Special Census?
A partial Special Census is conducted using the same methodologies and procedures as a regular or full Special Census. With a partial Special Census, the area being counted is typically much smaller. This basic enumeration of population, housing units, and group quarters is conducted for an area no larger than the area wholly within the jurisdiction of the local governmental unit. It is also defined as one or more census blocks that may be combined to encompass several complete block groups or census tracts. The information needed to process a cost estimate for conducting a partial Special Census is the same as that required for the standard Special Census.

During a partial Special Census, enumerators will still canvass their assignment areas using census maps and address registers that contain addresses and location information. The enumerators update the address lists and census maps by adding housing units not already listed, make corrections to address information, update maps with feature changes, and delete listings that do not exist. Assignment areas for a standard census are typically 75 housing units. This will vary with a Special Census depending on the size of the specific area for which the full or partial Special Census is requested.

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How Long Has the Special Census Program Been Operating?
The Census Bureau has been authorized to conduct Special Censuses since 1903. The nations first Special Census was conducted April 15, 1915. Although the way the Special Censuses are conducted has changed, the basic objective to obtain updated population and housing counts remains the same.

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What is the purpose of a Special Census?
When local officials believe there has been a significant population change in their community due to growth or annexation, a Special Census may be in order. The Official Census statistics produced by conducting a Special Census may produce an increase in state revenue sharing or other benefits. This could also offset the cost of actually conducting the Special Census, but much depends on the individual state's laws or regulations.

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What is the Geographically Updated Population Certification Program (GUPCP)?
GUPCP is a Census Bureau sponsored program that enables local and tribal governments and other customers to obtain certified 2010 Census population and housing counts for updated or newly established governmental unit boundaries. A geographically updated population certificate confirms that an official population count is an accurate re-tabulation of 2010 Census population and housing counts based upon boundary updates legally effective after January 1, 2010, the date for boundaries used in tabulating 2010 Census. A GUPCP certified count is different from a Special Census certified count.

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How are Special Census Official Census Statistics Different from the Geographically Updated Population Certification?
A Special Census is an actual enumeration of housing and group quarters of a specific area, conducted on a specified date. Special Census counts will include new housing and population that came into the area after 2010 Census. The Special Census also will produce demographic detail for the population, such as information on age, sex, relationships within households, race, Hispanic origin, occupancy or vacancy status, type of vacancy, tenure for housing units and any other information Special Census customers may choose to collect through other questions added to the questionnaire. GUPCP will provide only total population and housing unit counts.

Geographically Updated Population Certification is a re-tabulation of 2010 Census population and housing counts within new boundaries. ("New" boundaries are boundaries that become effective after January 1, 2010, the date for boundaries used to report 2010 Census data.) The geographically updated certified count will include only the population and housing that existed and was counted at the time of 2010 Census. It will not include counts for new housing or group quarters (i.e. nursing homes, college dormitories, prisons, etc.) population. In other words, if a local government wants to know the population within a housing development built after 2010 Census was taken, they could not get that information from GUPCP. For more information about this program, please review the GUPCP Internet site.

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How is a Special Census Conducted?
Data collection for a Special Census is conducted using an update/enumerate methodology. During update/enumerate, enumerators canvass their assignment areas using census maps and address registers that contain addresses and location information for housing units. The enumerators update the address lists and census maps by adding housing units not already listed, making corrections to address information, updating maps with feature changes, and deleting listings that do not exist. The Special Census Enumerator Questionnaire is similar to the 2010 Census short form. The Special Census Enumerator Questionnaire is used to collect data on all persons living in a household.

If requested on the Special Census Cost Estimate Form, during Special Census operations the Census Bureau will also enumerate people living in group situations. The structures that house people living in groups are call Group Quarters. Some examples of Group Quarters include colleges, hospitals, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and military installations. A Group Quarters may contain regular housing units as well.

For Group Quarters enumeration, we complete an Individual Census Report (questionnaire) for each individual housed in a particular unit. The questionnaire used is also similar to the 2010 Census short form, except there is only one person's data on each form.

People living in Transitory Locations are also counted. Transitory Locations are places where people who have no usual home elsewhere live. Transitory Locations are Recreational (RV) parks (not mobile home parks), Marinas, Commercial and/or public Campgrounds, Racetracks, Carnivals, and some Hotels or Motels (with long term residents).

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What Are the Residence Requirements When Conducting a Special Census?
Each person in a Special Census coverage area is identified as either a resident or nonresident of the housing unit as of Special Census Date. Since the first U.S. Decennial Census in 1790 the U.S. Census Bureau has used the concept of usual residence when determining where people were to be counted. This concept has been followed in all subsequent censuses and is also used when conducting a Special Census. Usual residence is the place where the person lives and sleeps most of the time. This place is not necessarily the same as the person's voting residence or legal residence. Also, noncitizens who are living in the United States are included, regardless of their immigration status.

Determining usual residence is easy for most people. Given our nation's wide diversity in types of living arrangements, however, the usual residence for some people is not as apparent. The Census Bureau has residence rules that provide guidelines for determining a respondent's usual residence.

Applying the usual residence concept to real living situations means that people will not always be counted at the place where they happen to be staying on the Special Census Date. For example, people temporarily away from their usual residence, such as on vacation or on a business trip on the Census Date will be counted at their usual residence by proxy.

People who live at more than one residence during the week, month, or year will be counted only if they live in the area, in which the Special Census is being conducted, most of the time. Some examples of these people, are those individuals in the armed forces, at college, in a correctional facility, or in a nursing home or home for the chronically ill. People without a usual residence, however, will be counted where they are staying as of the Special Census Date.

Living Quarters

Any place where people live or dwell OR could potentially live or dwell. There are two types of living quarters: housing units and group quarters. Note: Living quarters found at Transitory Locations are housing units.

Housing Unit

A housing unit is a:

  • house,
  • apartment,
  • mobile home or trailer,
  • group of rooms or single room occupied as separate living quarters of rooms,
  • single room occupied as separate living quarters OR if vacant, intended for occupancy as separate living quarters.

Separate living quarters are those in which the occupants live separately from any other person in the building and that have direct access from the outside of the building or through a common hall. If the only way an occupant can get to their living area is through someone else's living area, they do not have direct access; hence they would be treated as occupants of the same living quarters

Group Quarters

People living in group situations live in group quarters. A Group Quarters may contain housing units as well. For Group Quarters enumeration, we complete an Individual Census Report (questionnaire) for each individual housed in a particular unit. The questionnaire used is also similar to the 2010 Census short form, except there is only one person's data on each form.

More specific information on residency rules may be found at:
www.census.gov/population/www/cen2010/resid_rules/resid_rules.html

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Who Pays for a Special Census?
The Census Bureau conducts Special Censuses on a cost-reimbursable basis. This means that the governmental unit requesting a Special Census assumes full responsibility for the cost of the Special Census. The updated information provided by a Special Census is designated as Official Census Statistics and may be used in any manner provided for by applicable law.

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How Can a Governmental Unit Request an Official Cost Estimate?
Governmental Units can request an official cost estimate by following the instructions, completing and submitting the Special Census Cost Estimate Request Form [PDF 5.3mb] located on this web site. The fee for processing a basic cost estimate is $200.00. The governmental unit can pay the fee by clicking the Pay Cost Estimate Request Fee link. This fee will be adjusted, if certain variables are involved, such as the customer adding additional questions to the questionnaire. The Census Bureau will begin accepting requests for official cost estimates in October 2012. Special Census field work (production) will begin in 2013.

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Are There Limits to Where a Special Census can be Conducted?
A Special Census may be conducted for the government of any state, county, city, or other political subdivision within a state, for the government of the District of Columbia, or for the government of any possession or area, including political subdivisions, American Indian Reservations, and Alaskan Native villages, on subjects covered by the censuses provided for in Title 13, United States Code.

Each state's legislation needs to be reviewed to determine the circumstances under which a Special Census is applicable. For example, in Iowa, a city may have only one federal Special Census per decade. Conversely, Illinois has no such restriction, and towns may conduct as many Special Censuses as they deem necessary.

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How Does the Special Census Program This Decade Differ From Previous Decades?
The Special Census Program has been totally redesigned in the past 20 years. In 2000 the program began to use the update/enumerate methodology. The update/enumerate methodology improved the quality of the data by using the Census Bureau's Master Address File (MAF). The MAF is kept current through periodic updates from the United States Postal Services' Delivery Sequence File. This element is particularly important, because it ensures the quality and timeliness of the address list.

In addition, map and data product quality is improved by incorporating geographic changes found as a result of a Special Census into the U.S. Census Bureau geographic systems.

The Census Bureau may include Special Census results in the Population Estimates Program if the Special Census is of an entire governmental unit whose legal boundaries are identical to those used by the Population Estimates Program. The incorporation of the Special Census results into the population estimates allows the Census Bureau surveys that rely on the estimates as statistical controls, such as the ACS, to also reflect the Special Census results.

In 2011, Quality assurance procedures were expanded to include a Reinterview operation. The Special Census Operations Control System (SCOCS) used to control and track data collection assignments will randomly selects households, previously interviewed, for a follow-up interview. The system also allows the supervisor to select additional addresses, if deemed necessary, to include in the Reinterview operation.

Other improvements include a SCOCS address search function, which returns the associated geographic data of an entered address; making it easier for Special Census staff to identify in which assignment area an address is located. This function will be particularly helpful when local residents contact the Special Census Office inquiring as to whether they were counted.

The system also has a shipment tracking function that accounts for each document scanned and placed in a box for shipment to our National Processing Center.

Other changes include the hiring process, all applicants must clear their background check prior to beginning the Special Census job specific training and those who access computer systems are required to have special badges and access tokens.

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Why does the Special Census Program Stop in years ending in "8" and Resume in years ending in "2"?
The Special Census is typically on hiatus two years before and two years after the Decennial Census. During this time program materials and systems are updated. The Decennial Census is comprised of a very complex series of operations that demand a significant amounts of work and staff resources. As a result, staffing critical to the success of the Special Census Program are unavailable during the two years immediately before and after a Decennial Census.

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Is the Special Census Questionnaire the Same as the 2010 Census Questionnaire?
The Special Census Enumerator Questionnaire is very similar to the 2010 Census short form questionnaire.

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Can a Governmental Unit Add Questions to the Special Census Questionnaire?
Some questions may be added; however, they must be in accordance with subjects covered by the censuses, as provided for in Title 13, United States Code. Areas may benefit from collecting and analyzing information about housing, transportation, or land use. The fee to conduct a Special Census with added questions would increase, to allow for collection and processing of those questions. Also, new questions added to the questionnaire will be subject to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) form approval process.

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How Might a Community Benefit From Conducting a Special Census?
Some states distribute funds based on current population statistics. By conducting a Special Census, a community may be able to document a population or housing change from earlier censuses, which could lead to increased state revenue sharing or other benefits.

For an additional fee, communities may add questions to the questionnaire to collect data for use in local planning for housing programs, schools, transportation systems, and human resource and land-use planning.

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How Will Recruiting and Hiring be Conducted?
The state, local, or tribal government will be responsible for recruiting candidates for the Special Census. Hiring will be accomplished similar to the way the Census Bureau hires field representatives for surveys. Special Census Program staff will provide procedures and support in publicizing and recruiting for the Special Census. Testing, hiring, and training candidates will be the responsibility of the Special Census Program staff. Paychecks will be issued by the sponsoring government entity at prevailing pay rates. Pay rates are currently proposed to be 65 percent of local Bureau of Labor Statistics average wage for the county where the Special Census is located; these rates may, however, be raised or lowered depending on local conditions.

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What Data Products do We Receive and in What Format?
The governmental unit will receive a signed letter from the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau confirming that the jurisdiction's Special Census population and housing counts are "Official Census Statistics." In addition to this letter, the governmental unit also receives electronic files that show population and housing counts by block, and one-page demographic profiles for the governmental unit and associated tracts or part tracts. Standard information includes age, sex, relationship, race, Hispanic origin, occupancy or vacancy status, type of vacancy, and tenure for housing units. Most governmental units prefer these data in electronic Excel or PDF formats, although paper reports can be provided upon request. Additional data at the tract level are provided in ASCII format that allows the governmental unit to import the data into other software programs that allow the creation of customized reports.

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Is Special Census Data Confidential?
The public is protected by Title 13, U.S. Code. Only authorized U.S. Census Bureau employees may see personally identifiable information. Results that could be used to identify an individual are not released. Census employees, including those hired on a temporary basis, swear under oath that they will not disclose any information gathered about individuals or businesses. Information collected by the Census Bureau is used only for statistical purposes--no one can obtain personal identifiable data from the Census Bureau. For more information on Title 13, visit http://uscode.house.gov/search/criteria.shtml.

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Whom May I Contact for Information on the Special Census Program?
Call the Special Census Branch at 301-763-1429. You may also e-mail us at SpecialCensusProgram@census.gov

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Partnership and Data Services Branch | fld.pds.web.support@census.gov | Last Revised: February 04, 2014