Every decade, across the United States, the federal government collects comprehensive data on every individual based on basic population characteristics including age, sex, marital status, household composition, family characteristics, and household size. This data collection effort, the U.S. Census, helps determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding, including grants and support to states, counties, and communities are spent every year for the next decade. Given the important role the decennial census plays in allocating critical federal funding for states and local governments, an inaccurate count will not only adversely impact state and local finances and service provision, but also have an outsized effect on the well-being of specific population groups that depend on programs reliant on such funding.
2020 was the year of the most recent census. Because this census came during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many significant challenges when it came to collecting data accurately. However, according to Jennifer Reichert, the Assistant Division Chief of the Nonresponse, Evaluations, and Experiments Program, the U.S. Census Bureau was “able to account for over 99.9% of U.S. addresses in the 2020 Census” (U.S. Census Bureau). In other words, they were able to adapt to some of the challenges the pandemic created through increased use of technology at every level, from offering online self-response options to using iPhones for field data collection. These efforts were so successful that they even exceeded their goal for data collected through the online self-response option. Indeed, 80% of households that responded on their own did so online (U.S. Census, 2020). They were able to achieve a similar profile in the past census in terms of data quantity metrics. A key lesson going forward is that governments may be able to increasingly rely on technology to collect high quality, representative samples from the populations they serve.
National Conference of State Legislatures Base Camp Conference 2021.