NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Census Turns To Survey Of Non- Respondents

April 11, 2000

U.S. Census Bureau officials fear that, of those who received its long form, twice as many as predicted will not return it. With such a low response rate, the data collected would be so suspect as to invalidate it. So they are planning an on-going "American Community Survey," employing professional interviewers to visit homes.

  • The most recent figures show that 12 percent of those receiving the 53-question long form have so far failed to return it -- compared to a non-response rate of 4.8 percent in 1990.
  • The unexpectedly high number would require more personal interviews than the bureau's half-million enumerators would have time to conduct.
  • So under the American Community Survey plan the bureau will send personal interviewers each month to 250,000 persons in given rural and metropolitan areas -- targeting different areas each following month.
  • By the end of five years, the bureau would have collected a sample of 15 million responses to questions almost identical to those asked on the long form.

Census officials presented the American Community Survey plan to Congress four years ago and were given money to begin field testing -- which is still going on.

The long form data provide the federal government with data on which the distribution of about $185 billion in government funds depends, officials say. If the data are considered flawed, they say there will be serious economic repercussions.

Source: August Gribbin, "Criticism of Census Form Sparks Bureau to Re-Look," Washington Times, April 11, 2000.


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