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Survey Fatigue, Time Crunch May Have Lowered Response

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Society demands more data, more rapidly to meet the needs of the changing landscape of America’s communities.

At the same time, response rates to surveys that have traditionally provided the data to meet these needs have been declining in recent years.

Why? Because there is survey fatigue from the multitude of surveys that come from all corners of the public and private sectors. Add time constraints on an increasingly busy population, plus growing concerns about privacy and confidentiality, and the result is lower response.

Improving Quality While Saving Money

Administrative records have the potential to reduce the amount of information the U.S. Census Bureau requests from respondents.

They can also improve the quality of the data by offering more information used in the Census Bureau’s editing and imputation methodologies, to address missing or inconsistent responses. They ensure final data are as complete and consistent as possible.

Using administrative records also saves money. Census Bureau enumerators may not need to return to respondents’ homes to collect survey answers because administrative records fill the void.

In addition, Title 13 of the U.S. Code, which governs Census Bureau data collections, authorizes the use of administrative records in place of direct inquiries “to the maximum extent possible with the kind, timeliness, quality, and scope of the statistics required.”

The Census Bureau Has Used Administrative Records For Years

The Census Bureau has a long history of using administrative records to provide quality information about the U.S. population and economy. For decades, these data have helped produce population estimates and projections.

Since 2000, the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program has been integrating existing data from state administrative records on workers and employers with existing censuses, surveys and other administrative records. The records are used to create a longitudinal data system on U.S. employment.

The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program uses administrative records to provide annual estimates of income and poverty statistics for all school districts, counties and states.

The Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) program also uses administrative records to develop model-based estimates of health insurance coverage for counties and states.

What are administrative records?

Administrative data (or "administrative records") refers to government records collected by federal or state agencies while they are administering programs or providing services. Commercial data, or third party data, refers to information collected or aggregated by companies. Administrative records are distinct from systems of information collected exclusively for statistical purposes, such as those the U.S. Census Bureau produces under the authority of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Testing New Ways To Improve Data

The Census Bureau is now looking for new, innovative ways to incorporate administrative records into the decennial census and other surveys, including the American Community Survey (ACS).

The goal is to improve the quality of existing data, expand upon the information currently available in Census Bureau data products, and improve the experience of respondents by asking fewer questions and taking up less of their time.

A number of projects are underway to make these objectives a reality. The Census Bureau is:

  • Evaluating the coverage and quality of a variety of governmental and nongovernmental administrative records to identify the most promising sources.
  • Testing replacing ACS housing questions with data from administrative sources to learn about the impact on ACS estimates and data products.
  • Testing replacing ACS income questions with data from administrative sources.
  • Testing using administrative records for item imputation of race, age and Hispanic origin on the 2020 Census. We also plan to test these data for item imputation on the ACS.
  • Using administrative records to evaluate census data and coverage issues, such as the undercount of young children.
  • Identify vacant housing units to reduce non-response followup costs for the 2020 Census.

Leveraging existing data sources through linked approaches will be an important component of demographic and economic research in the coming years.

“The field of survey research is shifting,” said Ron Jarmin, performing the nonexclusive functions and duties of the director of the Census Bureau. “We must optimize survey design, accounting for information already available from administrative records and other sources to produce timely and accurate data products while minimizing burden on survey respondents.”

Protecting Confidentiality

The Census Bureau is legally required to maintain strict confidentiality. It is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code to ensure that information about any specific individual, household, or business is never revealed, even indirectly through published statistics.

It continues to be a leader in the development and application of disclosure avoidance methods to protect data, continually working to create new, advanced procedures for protecting respondents’ information and identity while meeting the data needs of our complex nation.

Jennifer M. Ortman is assistant division chief for survey methods and measures in the U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Office.

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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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