Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Life Cycle of A Decennial Census: The 2020 Census Is Just Around the Corner

Recently there have been legislative efforts in Congress to dismantle much of the decennial census, as well as curtail the viability of the American Communities Survey. These have been covered in early blog posts. I thought it would be good to remind people that the 2020 Census is actually not that far away ! Yes, it is slightly less than 7 years until Census Day 2020 (officially it will be April 1 of that year), but the census doesn't just "happen" on that day. A lot of planning and preparation takes place well in advance of Census Day to make it be of value. It is that preparation which is currently facing potential difficulties with budgetary cuts, as well as legislative efforts which would severely hamper the data collection process.

So to better understand where we are and how cuts or legislative changes may impact a data collection effort that seems so far off, I wanted to remind  people of the life cycle of the decennial census. Terry Anne Lowenthal, of the Census Project Blog, has captured this life cycle rather well, and offers the following:

  • To begin, slightly less than seven years from now, census forms will be in the mail (or online or your smartphone or whatever latest gadget I’ll be too old to master).
  • In six years, field workers will be canvassing the nation’s streets, rural roads and remote dirt lanes to be sure all addresses are in the system.
  • Just five years down the road, the Census Bureau will submit the 2020 Census questionnaire to Congress; 
  • In four, it will send lawmakers the topics it will include on the form — both submissions are required by law.
  • In three years, Census staff will be mired in final, targeted research and testing of the 2020 design (using the American Community Survey, if lawmakers haven’t pulled the plug, as a primary cost-effective test-bed), operations development, and complex IT systems testing.
  • Next year (that’s 2014, folks), the agency will choose the basic design for the 2020 population count.
So as you can see, the effort to conduct the census every ten years doesn't just start during the tenth year ! It is a long arduous process that requires long term commitments as well as support. Alterations to that process make the collection in 2020 more tenuous as we go!