Census Bureau Begins to Ramp Up Field Operations for 2020 Count

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The bureau plans to send out thousands of workers to verify addresses in the weeks ahead.

The first sizable field operation of the 2020 census is getting underway, with the U.S. Census Bureau planning to dispatch about 40,000 workers to help verify and update a master list of addresses the agency will use when it begins to actually conduct the population count.

This “address canvassing” process began earlier this month. It will continue to ramp up through the end of August and is set to conclude in October, according to the Census Bureau. 

“We’re still doing some hiring and we’re still training in order to put the 40,000 on the ground,” Marilyn Sanders, director of the bureau’s Chicago regional office, said on Monday.

For this decennial census, the bureau says it’s been able to verify about 65% of the 150 million addresses in its files using aerial imagery and information from the U.S. Postal Service and state, local and tribal governments, leaving about 50 million addresses to be checked. 

That’s in contrast to 2010 when the agency hired about 150,000 people to help validate all of the addresses on its list. “They walked around every city block, every country area,” said Deirdre Dalpiaz Bishop, chief of the Census Bureau’s Geography Division.

Census Bureau workers taking part in the address canvassing operation, known as listers, will carry government identification badges, as well as laptops and bags marked with census logos. They’ll be knocking on doors and speaking to residents in targeted areas.

Listers’ laptops will have software with maps and addresses they’ll be working to confirm.

New construction can present a bit of a curveball for the address verification process.

But state and local governments can provide the Census Bureau with updated address information about new residential construction in progress between March of last year and next April through what’s known as the New Construction Program.

City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research noted last week that in some states and localities there are requests for proposals out, seeking organizations to assist with census outreach efforts, especially in communities that have historically been difficult to count.

The center has published an interactive map online that identifies areas that are expected to be hard to count. Those maps now show areas where address canvassing will take place. The Census Bureau also has a map highlighting where canvassing will occur.

Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said innovations like allowing people to respond to the census survey online and using aerial imagery to check addresses could help to control costs, but are also relatively untested and could pose new risks.

Costs for the 2010 census totaled about $12.3 billion, according to GAO’s report, while estimates for the upcoming count are in the $14.1 billion to $15.6 billion range.

The Trump administration sparked controversy and a raft of litigation related to the census when it moved last year to include a question about respondents’ citizenship status on the survey. 

But the U.S. Supreme Court in June rejected the administration’s rationale for adding the question and Trump later backed down from his push to include it.

The once-a-decade headcount is important because it helps guide the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding to communities around the country, as well as the congressional representation and Electoral College votes afforded to each state.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

NEXT STORY: Why the 2020 Census Matters for Rural Americans