Census To Catch Up With The 21st Century, In Ten Years
If you’re still around in 2020, the Census Bureau hopes to be able to give you the option of responding electronically:
Happy Tuesday! How will Americans use the Internet in 2020? Will we all use cell phones? Will we still have snail mail?
A team of experts at the U.S. Census Bureau is asking those questions in preparation for the 2020 Census even as temporary workers are knocking on doors to complete the 2010 Census. Final answers won’t be needed for about eight years, but the team hopes to keep costs below the $14.7 billion budget for the 2010 Census and to make it possible for at least some Americans to answer census questions via the Internet.
“None of us can imagine doing a 2020 Census without an Internet option,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in an interview. Though he’s overseeing the 2010 Census, most of his tenure will be tied to 2020 preparations — and he’s pushing for a more efficient operation with fewer people.
“The easiest way to reduce costs in the Census is to reduce manpower,” Groves said. “To the extent that we can reduce the number of census worker visits in 2020, we’re going to save a lot of money.”
The cost and time benefits are obvious, but Groves said a Web option “will really be great for those people who are difficult to contact in person who are at home very infrequently.” The agency won’t move entirely online, since a Web-only effort would make it difficult to count rural areas or illiterate people, he said.
Internet options will be tested in the next ten years with the annual American Community Survey that tracks demographic and economic statistics. Groves expects the agency would send the questionnaire in paper format with an Internet address and code allowing people to submit answers online.
Of course, the Canadians already had this idea, and implemented it four years ago:
Canada did something similar with its 2006 census and 18.6 percent of respondents replied online, said Mark Hamel, manager of the 2011 census for Statistics Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the Census Bureau. Every Canadian household received a paper form with a secure access code and the agency used a computer network with double encryption similar to the security features used for online banking, he said.
“Everything indicates that we’re going to be able to more than double our online responses in 2011,”
One might wonder, of course, why the Census Bureau didn’t make at least an initial effort to follow the example of our neighbors to the north. The Canadian Census is likely a smaller task to plan than here in the United States, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason other than the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude that often prevails in government institutions. I know that if I’d had an option to complete my census form online, I would’ve used it, and I’m sure many other Americans would have too.
So, I guess we should be happy to see the Census entering the 21st Century, it’s just too bad they couldn’t do it sooner.