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2020 Census Data Products: Next Steps for Data Releases

April 27, 2022
Written by: CYNTHIA DAVIS HOLLINGSWORTH, PROGRAM MANAGER FOR 2020 CENSUS DATA PRODUCTS AND DISSEMINATION, DECENNIAL CENSUS MANAGEMENT DIVISION; JASON DEVINE, ASSISTANT DIVISION CHIEF FOR CENSUS PROGRAMS, POPULATION DIVISION

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

As we continue to develop the next set of 2020 Census data products, we wanted to provide an update on the schedule and next steps for the release of the Demographic Profile, the Demographic and Housing Characteristics File (DHC), and the Detailed DHC product.  

Our current schedule points to the release of the Demographic and Housing Characteristics File (DHC) and the Demographic Profile tables by May 31, 2023. We also expect to release the Detailed Demographic and Housing Characteristics File A (Detailed DHC-A) in August 2023. Please see the blog post on the Detailed DHC for more information on this data product.

Due largely to COVID-19 impacts on data collection, as well as the need for accurate processing and meeting confidentiality requirements, these data releases come later than the corresponding releases in the 2010 Census. Today, we want to share more information to help you understand the major factors that are contributing to these timetables. 

New Threats Required New Disclosure Avoidance Protection Methods

We’ve shared before how today’s technology has made the billions of statistics we publish vulnerable to bad actors who want to identify the people behind the numbers.

By law, we are required to address known vulnerabilities in our disclosure protections. If we discovered a weakness in our firewall, we wouldn’t wait for a data breach before patching it. We’d patch it immediately. It’s the same with respondent disclosure protections. Now that we know the swapping methods used in 2010 and other recent censuses are insufficient to fully protect against today’s threats, we must act to make the appropriate changes necessary to keep responses confidential.  Public trust in our ability to safeguard the data we collect is critical to ensuring we get the participation needed to produce quality data.

Confirmation of this vulnerability occurred late in the decade, just three years prior to the start of the 2020 Census. A system based on differential privacy was and is the only viable option to protect against these emerging technology threats while ensuring the continued high quality of census data.

Constructing this new, modernized approach has been a challenging but necessary task, requiring significant expertise and computing power. And since this is the first major update to those protection methods in three decades, we need to take sufficient time to ensure it functions appropriately and meets our quality standards. This investment will benefit not just the 2020 Census, but also the 2030 Census and other Census Bureau data products. 

Unanticipated Data Processing Complexities

The disruptions to the 2020 Census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reach far beyond collection operations and the early data product releases. To prioritize the mandated delivery of the redistricting files in a compressed timeframe, we needed to "split" our processing flows.

The initial Disclosure Avoidance System (DAS) development plan called for applying protections to both the redistricting and the DHC data simultaneously. This would have allowed a holistic approach to privacy-loss budget allocation between the two products.

Instead, without an approved schedule delay, we needed to separate the redistricting data delivery to attempt to meet its legally mandated deadline. This delayed work on optimizing the DAS for the much more extensive set of tabulations included in the DHC and introduced complexities that required us to re-envision how we designed and implemented the new confidentiality protections and subsequent data processing and quality assurance. This split increased the development workload and timeline. 

Data User Feedback Is Critical but Takes Time

Data user feedback has been critical as we develop the DAS. “Crowd sourcing” data review with the data user community allows us to release multiple iterative versions of demonstration data. This external review process complements our internal review of the data prior to its release.

The cycle of producing a demonstration data product, gathering feedback, analyzing and incorporating that feedback and producing an updated data product adds several months to the schedule but is vital to the process. To date, we have received more than 2,000 external comments on the DAS. Each has been reviewed and those reviews have materially improved the data products. Please continue to send us your feedback to 2020DAS@census.gov.

A Closer Look at the Steps Ahead for the DHC and Demographic Profile

As mentioned, we discuss plans for the Detailed DHC tables in the blog Plans for Producing Detailed Racial, Ethnic and Tribal Data from the 2020 Census released today. In this blog, we describe in more detail what you can expect in the months ahead as we prepare the DHC for release. If needed, we will adjust this schedule to ensure we can deliver results that meet our quality standards as a statistical agency. We will continue to alert you to any changes.

  • Second Feedback Round. In September 2021, we released the 2020 Census Data Product Planning Crosswalk describing the tables proposed for inclusion in the DHC, the Demographic Profile and the Detailed DHC, compared to the tables released in the 2010 Census. We received more than 400 comments from data users, many with helpful use cases or examples about how they use the data. Based on those comments, we plan to reinstate or expand several tables in these products.

In March and April 2022, we initiated the first of two feedback rounds with 2010 demonstration data for this new phase of DAS development. (The earlier 2010 demonstration data released in October 2019 and May 2020 reflected only a subset of DHC data tables.) We plan to issue a second round of 2010 demonstration data in August. This will include updates to DHC tables based on the earlier crosswalk feedback, as well as system tuning based on the first round of demonstration data. Visit the Demonstration Data and Progress Metrics page to access files and more information about these feedback rounds.

  • Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Workshop. This summer, CNSTAT will host a public workshop with panelists providing deeper analyses of demonstration data results. Those analyses will help inform final decisions about the production of DHC data.
  • Final Analysis and Settings Selection in Fall 2022. The Data Stewardship and Executive Policy Committee (DSEP) will select the final allocation of privacy-loss budget across geography types and queries for the production of the DHC data based on an analysis of data quality and disclosure risk. This executive-level body of career professionals is responsible for overseeing decision-making and communications on confidentiality and other policy issues. We anticipate this decision to occur in October 2022.
  • Processing the DHC Data and Quality Assurance. Following selection of the final DAS settings, the Census Bureau will begin standard data review, quality assurance and tabulation procedures. This is a far more rigorous process than the one used to develop the 2010 demonstration data for the DHC. 
  • Publishing the DHC Data. Following completion of multiple quality review checks, we will publish the DHC data on data.census.gov, our online data portal. We anticipate this release to occur by May 31, 2023.

Our mission is to deliver high-quality data products for your use.

We will continue to keep data users informed of developments as we process the upcoming 2020 Census data products. Subscribe to our 2020 Census Data Products Newsletter for timely updates and contact us at 2020DAS@census.gov if you have questions.

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