Questions Raised About Census Method That Estimated Data For Some Households

Questions Raised About Census Method That Estimated Data For Some Households

By Terri Jo Neff |

Questions remain in the aftermath of the U.S. Census Bureau’s release last month of the 2020 Decennial Census which put Arizona’s official population at nearly 7.16 million.

That figure, up more than 746,000 from a decade earlier, represented the eighth largest increase by number and the ninth fast growth rate in the country.  But census officials determined it was not enough to earn Arizona its 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There was much finger pointing at the time of the announcement that Arizona’s population fell 250,000 short of estimates even though Gov. Doug Ducey’s AZ Census 2020 Taskforce reported that census enumerators and volunteers attempted to reach 99.9 percent of all households in the state despite COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing challenges. 

But according to a theory by a former official who served in the Trump Administration’s Commerce Department, the reason some states ended up with unexpected results might have more to do with how the Census Bureau calculates the number of people who live in known households that did not fill out a census questionnaire.

Adam Korzeniewski is a Marine Corps combat veteran who specializes in fiscal and economic policy as well as national security topics. In an article published earlier this month in The American Mind, he cites the Census Bureau’s reliance on estimates as cause for concern for some states, including Arizona.

Federal law does not allow the Secretary of Commerce to rely on statistical sampling to fill in the blanks for households that do not respond to the census. But other methods are allowed, and Korzeniewski believes some of those need to be questioned.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, demographic characteristics about the people who live in every verified residence is necessary to obtain “a complete and accurate census. Unfortunately, not all households respond to the census questionnaire. When that happens, a census taker first turns to administrative records from the IRS and other government agencies to fill in the blanks about who likely lives in that household.

If a reliable administrative record is not available and the local census taker is unable to contact the household after three visits, information can be obtained from a neighbor, landlord or building manager. This is referred to as a proxy response.

The last method the Census Bureau uses is imputation, a statistical technique officials say makes the overall dataset “more accurate than leaving the gaps blank” by using what data is known to filling in what data is not known.

“We recognize that using information from these three techniques — imputation, using administrative records, and proxies — may not always match the reality of an address’s occupancy status or the characteristics of the people who live there,” the Census Bureau says. “However, these techniques are widely used in statistics because they have been proven to be more accurate than leaving the information blank.

Public records show about 1,172,000 “people” were imputed nationwide in 2000 and 1,163,000 in 2010. The 2020 figure has not been released yet although it is expected to be higher due to COVID-19 related difficulties.

But Korzeniewski, who also served in Trump’s Treasury Department, wrote in his article that the Census Bureau used another form of imputation in 2020 which he contends is based on statistical sampling. This occurred when census officials decided to utilize a “Group Quarters Imputation” due to problems gaining access to “households” located in places like colleges and residential healthcare facilities.

The greater reliance on such imputation was not part of the 2020 Decennial testing phases nor did state census officials have any input on the decision, Korzeniewski wrote.  That could be the basis for Arizona officials to acquire state-by-state imputations records from the Census Bureau with details of the types of imputation used.

“To my knowledge, the Census does not normally produce such documentation and it takes years for the Census to publish studies on itself,” Korzeniewski wrote, adding that states would also need to ask for records pertaining to the decision-making processes around the data calculation processes in order to determine whether it has grounds to challenge the Census outcomes.

“Successfully challenging the Census results would affect appropriation and could affect apportionment,” he wrote. “The Census typically takes years to officially release information on the Decennial, making it impossible for states to seek redress if action is not taken quickly.”

Newest Census Report Of Arizona’s Population Comes In Far Below Estimates

Newest Census Report Of Arizona’s Population Comes In Far Below Estimates

By Terri Jo Neff |

The 2020 U.S. Census state population results were announced Monday, and while Arizona added nearly 760,000 residents over the last 10 years, the growth was not as high as some state officials estimated. As a consequence, Arizona will not earn a 10th congressional district as many had expected.

The official increase in Arizona’s population is listed at 746,223 from April 1, 2010 to April 1, 2020.  That puts the number of residents at almost 7.16 million. What won’t be available for a few more months is the population breakdown by counties and communities.

Gov. Doug Ducey and his census taskforce pushed hard during the 2020 Census process, committing nearly $2 million to the effort which was hit hard by COVID-19. State officials previously said 99.9 percent of all households were counted.

“In 2020, countless volunteers embarked on a statewide campaign to reach underrepresented communities, resulting in AZ’s highest self-response rate in decades,” the state’s census team tweeted Monday.  “The state’s 64.1% self-response rate exceeded that from 2010 (61.3%) and 2000 (63%). 19 of the 20 land-based tribal communities in AZ had final enumeration rates of 100%.”

Many estimates by government agencies had pegged Arizona’s overall population at nearly 7.4 million going into 2020. It is unclear whether those estimates were based on overly optimistic formulas or if well-publicized concerns with how answers to census questions would be used kept some residents from being forthright.

The most immediate impact of the Census state population announcement is that those interested in representing Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives now know the state’s allotment of congressional districts will remain at nine, each serving roughly 795,500 residents.

Each state is initially assigned one of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representative. The rest are then allotted based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Arizona came in about 80,000 residents short for being considered for another congressional seat, while Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon added a seat. Texas added two congressional seats to its current 36.

How the boundaries of Arizona’s nine districts will look won’t be known for more than one year, as the Arizona Independent Restricting Commission must wait for the more detailed, localized census data to finalize their maps.

Long term, the biggest impact of the lesser than expected population numbers could be on Arizona’s budget, of which about 40 percent comes from federal funds. If Arizona was truly undercounted during the census process, there are some estimates it could cost the state roughly $62 million annually for every one percent undercount.