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Final Census Test Proves Successful

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The 2020 Census is almost here. For the first time in our nation’s history, it’s going to be offered online. With less than two years until Census Day on April 1, 2020, we are busy finalizing our preparations as well as testing and retesting every system to ensure the security of all the data we receive.

Counting every person in the country is no easy task — it is the largest peacetime mobilization we undertake as a nation. That’s why the U.S. Census Bureau starts planning each decennial census years before — and the 2020 Census is no different. To conduct the most technically advanced census ever, we researched and tested methods to count everyone in the country accurately, efficiently and securely.

The Census Bureau is nearing the successful completion of our final test — the 2018 Census Test — ahead of the once-a-decade population count. The test examined the critical systems and operations we will be using in 2020. The enumeration phase of the 2018 Census Test took place in Providence, Rhode Island, and built upon lessons learned from 2010 as well as several smaller scale tests we’ve performed since 2013.

The 2018 Census Test’s enumeration activities are complete and the data processing activities are now underway. We rigorously tested each of the three self-response methods that the public will be able to use in the 2020 Census: internet, phone and paper. The test resulted in a slightly higher than expected self-response rate (52.3 percent vs. 49.3 percent) with 61.2 percent of self-responders in Providence using the internet, 7.5 percent using the telephone, and 31.3 percent responding via paper questionnaire. We are very encouraged by these results and by the performance of the systems and technology we’ve put in place for the public to safely and securely respond to the 2020 Census.

Even with the increased options for self-response, we know that some households will still need to be counted the old-fashioned way — by a census taker walking the streets and knocking on doors. However, for the 2020 Census we have vastly improved and modernized the way the thousands of enumerators will work. In Providence, we tested the iPhones that enumerators will use for all aspects of their work including receiving assignments, viewing the most efficient order for visiting each household, submitting their hours, and securely recording, encrypting and transmitting each respondent’s information. All of these technological advances allow us to be more efficient than ever before, without sacrificing respondent privacy or security. Perhaps most encouraging is that we have observed a substantial increase in enumerator productivity from the adoption of technology and automation. In 2010, enumerators completed 1.05 cases per hour worked. In the 2018 test, enumerators completed 1.56 cases per hour worked, a remarkable improvement in productivity.

Importantly, the test was supported by secure IT systems that were successfully deployed in a cloud environment for the first time, which is a major accomplishment. While the 2018 Census Test operations completed thus far proved to be a success, we will be working through the next year to scale our systems to make sure we can perform just as well during the 2020 Census — when we count more than 140 million households nationwide.

Protection of your data is at the forefront of every decision we make at the Census Bureau. To that end, we have designed our IT systems to defend against and contain cyber threats. From the beginning of the data collection process through the final storage of information, we protect your responses following industry best practices and federal requirements, including data encryption and using two forms of authentication to secure system access. The security of our systems is a top priority, and we continually refine our approach to address emerging threats and to position ourselves to prevent, detect, respond and recover from possible cyber threats.

With less than two years away from Census Day 2020, the 2018 Census Test is proving that we are on track and well on our way for the full count — the 2020 Census. Learn more about the 2020 Census here.

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Page Last Revised - October 28, 2021
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