With help from his super smart friends, Robert Santos, President-Elect of the American Statistical Association, internationally recognized expert in the census, and Chief Methodologist at the Urban Institute, answers all your questions about why the 2020 census is so important.

So, what’s the census anyway? It’s when the federal government counts every resident in the US every ten years (Yep, every last one). Who should care about the census? Um, everyone. Why should everyone care so much? For sooooo many reasons. It’s required by Constitution, for starters! It sends BILLIONS of $$$ around the country, too (Yup, you read that right. Billions of dollars…). And if that’s not enough, the census determines how many seats your state gets in the House of Representatives. OMG!

Ask Robert and his friends listed below all your questions about the 2020 Census so we can talk about why it’s such a big deal (answers initialed by experts). And then continue the convo by requesting to join the CountOnStats LinkedIn group and by following @CountOnStats on twitter…

  • Tom Louis, Professor Emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics
  • Mark Mather, Associate Vice President, Population Reference Bureau
  • William O’Hare, Demographer and Advisor, Annie E. Casey Foundation Count all Kids 2020 Census Committee

2020 Census resources: https://2020census.gov/en

Proof: https://i.redd.it/uql8iyr9fwy31.jpg Proof: https://twitter.com/ASA_SciPol/status/1195140154077392902

3:30pm UPDATE: Hey Reddit, thanks for all your questions today! We've got just a few more minutes left today to geek out on the census, but we'll be watching this thread closely and will return to answer pressing questions!

11/15/19 3:55pm eastern time UPDATE: Hey Reddit, we're signing off for now, but we'll be monitoring this thread to answer pressing questions. Thanks for the questions!

Comments: 483 • Responses: 68  • Date: 

largebarge1218310 karma

With electronic storage, filing, and analyzing of census information, should we do a census more frequently than every 10 years? It seems like an outdated timetable now that those tasks can be completed faster.

ASA_Census_Expert300 karma

Great question! The Census Bureau started conducting the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2005 to address this very concern. The ACS--unlike the decennial census--is designed to collect timely demographic, housing, social, and economic data every year. However, we still need the decennial census to count all people living in the United States. -MM

ASA_Census_Expert73 karma

From Tom Louis: Some other countries conduct a census more frequently than every 10 years. It would take a considerable investment to do so for the US and, as Rob Santos states, we do have the American Community Survey to `fill some gaps.'

mmm_toasty249 karma

What would you consider to be the biggest gap or failure in the current design of the census?

ASA_Census_Expert240 karma

From Tom Louis: In my view, the biggest gap is, due to funding limitations and other problems, the bureau wasn't able to do as many full-scale field tests as would be desirable. So, there are some uncertainties, but it is likely (not certain!) that no major problems will emerge.

ASA_Census_Expert184 karma

I saw two gaps/threats (not sure failure is appropriate) in the current design:

  • first, the persistent under-funding of the decennial census in the 2nd half of this decade led to under-TESTING & other cutbacks. That is scary
  • The second is the plan to use differential privacy algorithms to reduce disclosure risk in reporting out census counts. The train has left the station on that yet the testing and impact on the quality of such a data product is relatively unknown. You gotta be scared when you are in a situation where "you don't know what you don't know" and IMHO that is the case with knowledge about the impact of census data utility in the face of differential privacy


ASA_Census_Expert78 karma

From Tom Louis: (Ok, experts can go to an fro.) I agree with RS that use of differential privacy (DP) may degrade public access data. Thankfully, the mother lode data housed in the bureau is not so protected. Therefore, if it turns out that DP causes end-user problems, another approach to privacy protection using the mother-lode data as input can be used.

ClementineChime82 karma

Are there any notable differences in the way the United States carries out its census compared to other countries? Are some countries using better methods? Do some countries have great difficulty in getting an accurate count due to limited resources?

Is there one country that stands out above all else in terms of accuracy and efficieny?

ASA_Census_Expert69 karma

There are notable differences among countries. For example, some countries have continuously updated, residence registries and can get a count almost a the push of a button. However, even in these countries there can be data lags, so it's not perfect.

Chtorrr70 karma

What is something people never ask about but you'd like to tell us?

ASA_Census_Expert82 karma

One of the biggest misunderstandings about Census accuracy is the fact that net undercounts are not the same as people missed.. Net undercounts are a balance of people missed and people double counted... Omissions measure people missed in the census.

littlemoondragon60 karma

Given the data and computational landscape has changed drastically over the decades, what are the data privacy concerns when reporting on the census?

ASA_Census_Expert72 karma

Thanks for raising this important topic. The Census Bureau takes this extremely seriously and Title 13 requires strict confidentiality protection for respondents. Basically, the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing any personally identifiable information with any other governmental agency, business, or any other organization for any reason. There are valid concerns about the possibility of people 'hacking' into the census, but the Census Bureau is working hard to make sure that this doesn't happen. -MM

ASA_Census_Expert26 karma

From Tom Louis: Indeed, the bureau is working to protect privacy, from start to finish. Importantly, the bureau is implementing modern privacy protections on the end-use data.

meghapsimatrix55 karma

Hi Rob! Is missing data an issue for census? How do you deal with that issue?

ASA_Census_Expert160 karma

you bet. All decennial censuses experience missing data. There are two types!

1) some questions on the form are not answered

2) No completed form is returned (ie everything is missing)

Guess what? When some Qs are not answered (ie, 1 above), sometimes an enumerator will contact you/the household and ask for that info. And sooooometimes, the Census bureau will fill it in with a statistical prediction!

And when no one returns a form and an enumerator is unsuccessful in getting a response from you *or* your neighbor (yah, called a proxy response), if the Census Bureau knows someone lives in the uncooperative house, they will *impute* (predict/fabricate statistically) the entire form! That happened 6M times in 2010 and it will be much more IMHO in 2020


ASA_Census_Expert71 karma

It's both reassuring and, yes, concerning, that many of these imputations/predictions are very accurate, being based on administrative records, etc.


izomiac53 karma

Census data is kept classified for 72 years, so the most recent census we can review is 1940. That one was used to arrest anyone who reported their race as Japanese and put them into concentration camps. The census bureau publically denied that fact until the records were declassified.

As such, how can one justify encouraging people to fill out more than the legal minimum? The census has a noble purpose, but such a serious betrayal of confidentiality isn't something that should be easily forgiven or overlooked...

ASA_Census_Expert22 karma

We live in a different world than the one that existed almost three quarters of a century ago. I would eschew making a decision today based on events of the distant past (including Japanese internment, slavery, genocide of Native Americans, prosecution of Mexican immigrants and native born, alike). Instead I would point to the Census Act that stipulates protections of privacy and the high level of scientific, constitutional and ethical integrity of the Census Bureau staff -- a bunch of whom I have know personally for 30+ years. I totally believe that they will protect all US residents.

Having said this, I totally understand and I am sensitive to the fear and distrust spurred by recent events (eg, the citizenship question fracas). We have a right to be somber and cautious. So thank you for expressing that. All I can say is that I really believe that the risk of census data disclosure for federal enforcement purposes is extremely low. To my knowledge, no one worries that the IRS staff or the Social Security staff will pass over private data. Well, the public disclosure protections set by the Census Act are far more stringent! We have so much more to gain and the risks are so teeny that to me it is a no brainer: we ALL deserve to be counted!


adeiner32 karma

How do you deal with demographics that are either less likely to complete their Census or might not trust the Census (whether because of general anti-government feelings or because they're afraid/think the citizenship question is still on it)?

ASA_Census_Expert45 karma

There are many Hard-to-Count (HTC) populations in country who are less likely to self-respond to the Census. The Census Bureau is designing an extensive communication campaign to try to encourage such groups to respond to the Census. Part of that effort is a partnership program that works with groups outside the federal government who are "trusted voices" among the HTC groups, Organizations like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Urban Leagues and the Partnership for Americas Children and many many other organizations have been working in their communities to try and overcome resistance to filling out the census ..WPO

cistacea28 karma

In your opinion, what could be done to improve statistical literacy in America?

-me, a former math teacher who gave the hell up and moved to El Salvador

ASA_Census_Expert63 karma

I think the only way to increase statistical literacy is by moving away from the formulas and calculations (which definitely have their place, but when it comes to the general public it's further down the line) and focusing first and foremost on the role of statistics in problem solving and story telling. Statistics can really help to provide texture to an issue like, say, food insecurity (people/families that go hungry). Food insecurity is pervasive and survey stats show it. But you can't really solve food insecurity (as "in the long term") by pushing out emergency food. You need to understand the reasons behind it -- reasons that statistics can provide: food insecurity happens in households with chronically ill or disabled people, the elderly with little or no income, families who have a terrible time paying the rent or utilities or medicine, folks who cannot find a job... Statistics serve to tell different stories of the types of people suffering from food insecurity and the solutions need to attend to peoples' specific situations. Bottom line: infuse stats as a natural part of the critical thinking process, and that would get you more than half way to statistical literacy. IMHO


Dont-HugMeIm-Scared21 karma

At which point in your education did you start specializing on this and why did you do so?

ASA_Census_Expert32 karma

I was an anthropology major but decided I wanted to do more applied work so I switched to demography in graduate school. I was drawn to demography and census data because it has so many real-world applications. -MM

ASA_Census_Expert28 karma

I started undergraduate work as a math major then switched to social science.. so demography was a natural way for me to combine these my interest in numbers and people. Over time, I time I have become more interested on social demography and applied demography, both of which make extensive use of data from the Census Buerau WPO

ASA_Census_Expert17 karma

I wanted to be a math prof but my undergrad adviser steered me towards statistics, so I went to UM Ann arbor to a Math Stat grad program! Then almost by accident I was called to a meeting by a researcher at ISR Mich who was doing a first ever national survey of Mexican Americans (which is what I am), and he convinced me in a single hour to become a sampling statistician in survey research. That is how I became an applied survey statistician (back in 1977!). I tell the story in my AAPOR Heritage Interview (I was AAPOR Pres. in 2014): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJf4nGpU2ns

dpcaxx20 karma

How much would it screw up the census if we all marked that we were Samoan?

Edit: iamasamoan.com is available, just sayin'

ASA_Census_Expert125 karma

hahaha... it wouldn't pass the laugh test! and those responses would not be used (imho)

Seriously, back in the 1970 census a "Hispanic" Q was added that asked (among other categories) if people were "Central American", "South American" etc. But the Q WAS NOT TESTED -- it was just inserted into the Census form. Lo & behold, when responses were being tabulated a bunch of Hispanics were found to live in Alabama and Iowa and those areas. When the census bureau did some digging, turns out that folks in Iowa considered themselves living in the central pare of the USA ("America" so they marked that. And in the southern states, folks figured they lived in the "South" so they were "South American" :-)

true story!


ASA_Census_Expert11 karma

TL: Regarding the counts that are used for apportionment, it wouldn't turn any screws. But, surely, if it passed the laugh test, it would mess up demographic information. I like that we collect such information to celebrate the diversity of our nation, I don't like that it can and is used to divide us.

fortune_auto18 karma

In your opinion, what data from the US Census needs more visualization? What data is overlooked, and what kind of stories are there to tell from that overlooked data? I’m starting a club at my university that focuses on building clear and compelling data visualizations that effectively communicate data, and one area I want to focus on is the US Census. Do you have any thoughts on what stories you in particular would like to see produced using data from the Census? Thanks!

ASA_Census_Expert22 karma

Good question! The strength of the census data is in the availability of data for very small geographic areas, so it's a great resource for MAPS. The availability of trend data (as far back as 1790) also makes it a great resource for trend analysis, although you need to consider the comparability of variables over time (like racial/ethnic categories, which tend to change in every census).

For example, one interesting story you can tell with census data is the population loss in many counties in the Midwest--some of which have been losing population for decades. -MM

ASA_Census_Expert10 karma

TL: Easy answer--almost everything could benefit from (well done!) visualizations. I don't have an answer to what data are overlooked, but it's safe to state that the analyses/visualizations yet to be done far outnumber those that have been done!

Funkyduffy15 karma

What is your favorite Texas BBQ joint?

ASA_Census_Expert50 karma

Statistically speaking, I have conducted a census of BBQ joints in the Central TX area and my all-time fav is Coopers in Llano TX! Those burnt end brisket tidbits are to die for


NikkiP0P9 karma

What?! How is it not Market in Luling??

ASA_Census_Expert12 karma

I prefer Smitty's in Lockhart to Market in Luling! :-P

KSchnee15 karma

1) How did the Constitution's rule that the government must "count the whole number of persons in each State" (Article 1) -- a power brought up solely in the context of apportioning House seats / electoral votes -- transform into a constitutional authority to ask a wide variety of questions and demand that people answer?

2) Why is it not important to ask how many citizens, as opposed to people present, the United States has? This seems like a very basic question we would like to know, as long as we're asking other things than "how many people".

ASA_Census_Expert15 karma

ANSWER TO Q1: The constitution requires a decennial counting of the nation's residents. The Census Act made it mandatory and put in place safety measures that protect the privacy of individuals when they respond. Virtually every question in the decennial census and the "ongoing long form census" (which is actually a survey called the Amer. Community Survey aka the ACS) has a legislative mandate -- that is, Congress requires information for governance that can be mapped to questions in the decennial census and ACS.

ANSWER TO Q2: We actually get info on citizens through the ACS (noted above).


KSchnee7 karma

In other words, the Constitution requires and authorizes asking one specific question (how many people) and the other questions are constitutionally justified by... Congress deciding that they wanted that authority, right?

ASA_Census_Expert4 karma

yessir, that is my understanding --RS

FatherDuffy11 karma

Is it a crime to not answer the census?

ASA_Census_Expert15 karma

Yes, but to my knowledge no one has ever been convicted of not participating in a decennial census. It's not about the legal mandate; it's all about the civic obligation to yourself, your family, your community, and your state.


Vandechoz2 karma

It's not about the legal mandate

Are census takers trained to threaten people with legal action if they refuse to respond to more than the Constitutionally-mandated portion?

ASA_Census_Expert2 karma

Census takers (field enumerators) are trained to invite and encourage census participation as well as to get answers to the census questions. The are not trained to threaten their fellow citizens. IMHO threats would be the fastest way to sabotage the whole process of getting participation from the hardest folks to count, which are the folks that the field staff try to contact for participation. They are also the people that stand to benefit most from census participation.


enkiloki11 karma

What your real best guess on the number of undocumented people living in the US?

ASA_Census_Expert39 karma

Jeff Passell at the Pew Research Center has been producing estimates of this population for years. Homeland Security also produces estimates of the undocumented population. Estimates from both of these sources are around 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Given agreement from both of these sources I think that number is reasonable. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of non-citizens living in the U.S. who are not undocumented people. WPO

f0rgot10 karma

Dear Robert - what’s the best way to learn statistics?

ASA_Census_Expert30 karma

<3<3<3 Thanks for asking!

IMHO the best way learn statistics is to view it through a few lenses:

  • the knowledge lens -- stats is a tool just like the tools in your tool box, but rather than building things, you can use stats to *build knowledge* about something important to you. And what's super-cool is that you can use stats to build knowledge in the face of uncertainty. So what if you don't know for sure if the next coin flip is heads or tails. You can gain knowledge by learning whether the coin flips are 'fair' (50/50) or not via collecting data.
  • the math lens: statistics is an intriguing area of mathematics and one can make great theoretical contributions
  • the applications lens -- besides philosophical 'knowledge gain' and applied math theory, one can vies statistics through its ubiquitous application in virtually every part of society -- from political polls, to restaurant reviews, to facial recognition, to public health applications, design of better medicines, machines, manufactured products, you name it... not to mention developing social programs that help people in need (societal benefit)

Recognizing and valuing the many facets of statistics is a first step in learning stats. The key is not to see stats as this "hard thing with formulas" but a tool that allows the uncovering of insights. Keeping that in mind helps make the journey of learning statistics a sweet yellow brick road....


cahaseler9 karma

Before this administration, has the census ever been politicized in the past?

ASA_Census_Expert22 karma

There have been political overtones in past censuses but in my experiences partisan politics have never been as big a part of the Census as seen in the 2020 Cycle. WPO

ASA_Census_Expert18 karma

I'll just add that BY DEFINITION, the results of the census are political because they are used for apportionment and redistricting. But census operations should not be politicized. The Census Bureau’s mission is to count everyone residing in the U.S. on April 1. -MM

ASA_Census_Expert8 karma

Agree, this time around seems to be the most overtly political.

me_at4am9 karma

What’s your opinion on adding middle eastern as an ethnicity on the census? I’ve heard a few people talk about this and I’m curious to see what y’all think

ASA_Census_Expert22 karma

As you may know, the Census Bureau proposed adding a category of Mid-Eastern/North African (MENA) to the Census race categories to the 2020 Census, but that plan fell through when OMB failed to endorse such a change...that was in late 2017 early 2018. I think it would be a good idea to add such a category because it matches the reality as many people see it... I think a lot of people see folks from this part of the world as a minority group within U.S. society ..WPO

Normal_Outliers8 karma

how has changes in asking about race affected analysis? Are their any examples where collecting race data has provided unmistakable social benefit?

ASA_Census_Expert23 karma

Starting in the 2000 Census people were allowed to mark more than one racial category... That made race more complicated to analyze but also more reflective of reality. If racial data were not collected in the Census (and other federal government data collection activities) it would difficult to prove (or disprove) racial inequities in things like education, employment, and voting rights. One of the issues in the 2020 Census is how to provide data for smaller racial groups ( for example people who are black, white and Asian) while at the same time protecting respondents confidentiality...WPO

JCsuperska8 karma

Mr. Santos, your title of Chief Methodologist at Urban Institute has caught my attention, and I have one question that I think you will be uniquely qualified to answer: who is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? Thank you for your time.

ASA_Census_Expert18 karma

hahaha... that's easy: Rafael

Why? That's the only one I remember! :-P

Bossman6437 karma

I'm curious why Arabic people who become citizens here are defined as white?

ASA_Census_Expert13 karma

Good question--There was a proposal to change the racial/ethnic categories so that people could identify as Middle Eastern or North African (as a distinct group separate from "White") but this change was not made for the 2020 Census. Hansi Lo Wang wrote a nice article on this topic for NPR: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/29/581541111/no-middle-eastern-or-north-african-category-on-2020-census-bureau-says -MM

ASA_Census_Expert9 karma

Hmmmm..... The main way an Arabic would be 'defined' as white would be if they, *themselves*, marked "White" on their form to the race question. Census relies on the persons' answers and it will not change those responses.

Hey -- I myself am Mexican American have never answered "white"... I answer "Other: Mestizo"!


Godloseslaw6 karma

What business is it of yours how many toilets I have? Why is it my problem if you don't have that information?

My bobcat says hi.

ASA_Census_Expert8 karma

The question about flush toilets was never very popular...and in fact it will not appear on the 2020 census form. It was included on a separate survey questionnaire (American Community Survey) as recently as 2015 but was dropped from that form in order to reduce the burden on respondents. -MM

Xeno-ken6 karma

If we were to change the census to a more frequent or near-live count rather than every 10 years, do you think that would affect the representatives in various states and therefore larger elections?

ASA_Census_Expert13 karma

Yes this could certainly affect apportionment but the U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken only every 10 years. And given the cost of conducting the census--projected at more than $15 billion in 2020--it would be difficult to implement. -MM

kumarabellydancer6 karma

When was the last time you said "wow" in your job?

ASA_Census_Expert13 karma

I do that a lot in my job :-)

The biggest wow I had was when I did a project to get a guesstimate on the possible undercount of the 2020 Census. We superimposed the supposedly great performance of the 2010 Census (which overall estimated virtually a dead on accuracy) on a population projection of the 2020 US population. And we came up with a noticeable undercount! The reason was that our wonderful US population is becoming more diverse over time, and the folks who are harder to count are increasing in size. That was a pretty big wow moment for me. (see https://apps.urban.org/features/2020-census/ for more info)


cara27hhh5 karma

It bothers me that census is linked to address, will there ever be a point where census is not linked to address but linked to a person?

ASA_Census_Expert24 karma

For the current uses of Census data it is critical to tie people to a geographic location because census data is used to draw legislative districts and census data are used to distribute billions of dollars in federal assistance to geographic locations. If people were not tied to a physical location the census data could not be used for these functions....WPO

forthe_loveof5 karma

(big data question) How is census information collected, stored, analyzed, and accessed?

ASA_Census_Expert5 karma

just a quick response to the first part of your questions in terms of how information is collected. Households can self-respond by internet, by phone, by paper questionnaire. The self response process will start about mid March and last though early May. After that, households that have not self-responded will be visited by a Census enumerator to collect their data. That process will end around the last of July. .WPO

DoctorWho4265 karma

Why was everyone so up in arms about the census asking if you are a citizen or not?

Isn't the point of a census to get an accurate count of the population for taxes and welfare and stuff like that?

Isn't the point to find out how many US citizens live where?

Another question, what are some interesting population trends you've noticed from census data?

Thanks for the AMA!

ASA_Census_Expert9 karma

Here is a list of some key demographic trends we've identified in a recent report on this topic:

· The U.S. population is increasing and could reach a third of a billion people by 2020, but the population is on track to grow at the slowest rate since the 1930s.

· Fewer households are being established, due in part to the growing share of young adults who still live with their parents.

· As the U.S. population continues to shift to the South and West, states in those regions will likely gain congressional seats at the expense of states in the Northeast and Midwest, changing the political landscape.

· More than half of U.S. counties have experienced net population loss since 2010, with more than 550 counties losing at least 5 percent of their residents.

· The post-2010 demographic situation is especially bleak in Puerto Rico, which has lost more than half a million residents, or 14 percent of its 2010 population.

· The percentage of U.S. residents ages 65 and older is increasing at the fastest pace in U.S. history.

· Children are at the forefront of racial/ethnic change in the United States, creating a diversity gap among generations.

· Growing racial/ethnic diversity in the United States is no longer being driven by immigration, but by patterns of births and deaths among the U.S. resident population.

· A growing divide in homeownership rates between whites and blacks is increasing the wealth gap between racial and ethnic groups.


ASA_Census_Expert7 karma

Why was everyone so up in arms? **ANS: Fear of info being used in enforcement bc (Total - citizen) = immigrant

Isn't the point of a census to get an accurate count? **ANS: yup... as well as allocation of federal funding, House seat allocation to states, and a ton of other stuff that directly touches people's lives (eg where to place fire stations, highways, utilities)

Isn't the point to find out how many US citizens live where? **ANS: nope, it's to find out how many *residents* are in the US, states, counties, towns, etc.

What are some interesting population trends you've noticed from census data? **ANS: We are becoming a *more* diverse nation and that thrills me to no end -- diversity = strength for our beloved nation IMHO


RegisteredDancer4 karma

What happens when a state loses a congressional seat due to population changes? Who determines which districts get changed or merged or whatever?

ASA_Census_Expert12 karma

Based on census numbers the federal govenrment determines how many seats in congress a state gets. Once it is determined how many seats a state get a it is up to the state to draw congressional districts for those seats. The districts must meet certain standards like the equal population standard (one person- one vote) and the Voting Rights Act laws, but states have a lot of latitude on how to draw those districts. Given the heavy partisan political gerrymandering that has occurred in the past few decades more states have started using commissions or more politically independent bodies to create the districts. ..WPO

RageAga1nstMachines3 karma

With census results being used to influence Congressional funding and redistricting (which are increasingly partisan and gerrymandered), why shouldn’t offended parties voluntarily sit out the census as a form of protest or civil disobedience?

ASA_Census_Expert14 karma

The biggest reason I give for participating is that we *deserve* to be counted. Why? Because we, our community, our town/city/county really really get the resources and representation we deserve and need to make our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities etc a better place to live.

I hate to mention it but by law every person must participate and be counted. But the truth is that participating is much more important than "obeying the law". We deserve our fair share of resources and political representation. Let's not deny ourselves.


PHealthy3 karma

I've heard the census is no longer going to include <1 year old population data, is this true? If so, why?

ASA_Census_Expert13 karma

Not sure where you heard this.. The census is planning to include persons of any age in the 2020 Census... you may have heard that youngest children were missed at the highest rate of any age group in the 2010 Census. According to Census Bureau research about 2 million young childrne ( udner age 5) were missed in the 2010 Census = WPO

ASA_Census_Expert11 karma

Without question, and according to the Constitution, the goal is to enumerate ALL residents. But, children under 5 were (and likely will be) the most difficult to enumerate.

mdgraller3 karma

Why is the general public so bad at statistics? Do you think it’s just not taught well or it’s confusing or something else? It seems like your average person is so wildly off-base when it comes to even basic statistics and probability

ASA_Census_Expert8 karma

I dunno. I think that our society has somehow built an educational/learning system that forgot the value of experiential learning and learning through storytelling. And if we could pull those fundamental learning methods together with critical thinking, combine with illustrations of how statistics can provide insight into everyday problems we have, then I think you'd get "magic".


scorchPC13373 karma

Why do we need the census when every citizen already has a Social Security Number? Couldn’t we just count those by the address associated with each?

ASA_Census_Expert10 karma

SSN gets you more than halfway there, but not all the way. Some people "borrow" others' SSNs; others plain out steal them and use them for themselves or sell them. And believe it or not, administrative records are not known for their uniform accuracy -- mistakes can and do happen. Then there is the reconciliation of births & deaths with SSNs. States manage their own the birth/death/marriage tracking systems. (And lots of people move from one state to another, to make matters worse. Have you ever tried to reconcile a state data base with a federal one? It ain't pretty. Bottom line: seems great in theory but when the rubber hits the road, it's always more complex & troublesome.


thrustyjusty2 karma

Your whole ass title was too hard to read, I keep getting confused at statistical association. I have no idea what you do, if I was 4 years old, how would you explain to me what your job is in a much simpler way?

ASA_Census_Expert4 karma

hahaha... even I think my title is too hard to read. I basically try to help people by using numbers creatively to show folks what is good and what is not so good about most anything, from taxes to education to jobs to incarceration to housing, health and so on. Just as a hammer can be used to build a house, a a bridge, a cabinet or a table, statisticians can help build a better car, a better reentry program for ex-offenders, a better delivery system for food banks, better schooling for school kids, etc.


PureOrangeJuche2 karma

I have an economist friend working on a high-profile project that uses business-level Census data. How is that collected and what unique challenges does it have compared to the individual side?

ASA_Census_Expert5 karma

Don't know a lot about the economic census but I can say this: It is conducted every five years by the Census Bureau and I would not want to be in charge of that (HIGHLY VALUABLE) monster. Why? Because having designed and conducted establishment surveys, you face increasingly complex issues like peeling an onion. Establishments are born and "die out" at a very rapid rate over time. The *overwhelming* majority of establishments are small businesses. Some don't have addresses. Some change addresses at a rate that is scary. Some are just shell operations so who do you contact? It would be enough to drive me kinda crazy... But hats of the Census Bureau for pulling it off regularly with aplomb...


ServantOfPelor2 karma

Hello everyone! On your career path was there anything you regretted not learning earlier or not doing sooner?

ASA_Census_Expert12 karma

One of the things that was lacking from my graduate school education (and I think it is lacking from most garduate programs today) is learing how to communicate to those outside my field.. the media in particular. If we can't tell people what we do and why it is important, it will be difficult to get public support for our work. ..WPO

Jebus_Jones1 karma

Are you related to Matt Santos?

ASA_Census_Expert1 karma

I don't think so.... --RS

thehighepopt1 karma

Everything in your post makes my heart warm. What do you think will be the biggest impact on our fair state (Texas) from the next census?

ASA_Census_Expert2 karma

As a native Texan who loves his state (not necessarily its policies), Texas unfortunately has much to lose. States like California are doling out over $120M on efforts to get decennial participation as high as possible. Sadly, Texas is providing $0... zilch. That means that the risk of an undercount is high and it will predominantly be from areas with high concentrations of Latinos and African Americans. So for the state as a whole we could not receive the number of Congressional House seats that we deserve, nor would we get the federal funding we deserve. Basically, our house seat(s) and funding would got out to other states. And then the story worsens. Within the state, areas in most need and most deserving of federal funding -- such as high concentration Latino ares along the Rio Grande Valley -- would get less than they deserve (because they are most severely undercounted), while more affluent areas with lower concentrations of minority populations would get more than they deserve because allocations within state area a zero-sum game. That goes for planning too: locations of schools, fire stations, roads, legislative districts, or commercial establishments like grocery stores... all are at risk of being placed incorrectly because of an undercount. The stakes are high, which to me means we need a highly charged grass roots effort to convince our beloved brothers & sisters in TX that we *deserve* to be counted!


johnjesse21221 karma


ASA_Census_Expert7 karma

The main hiring for the Census Bureau will be in 2020 so I don't think the fact that you were not hired this year is a sign you will not be hired next year. The hiring for 2020 will begin in January with supervisor-type positions but most (roughly 300,000 enumerators )will be hired around April.- May,,.WPO

saalda1 karma

Would you rather fight 1000 hedgehogs or one hedgehog the size of a pig?

ASA_Census_Expert1 karma

Let's not fight, now... give peace a chance. --RS

QueeLinx1 karma

Anything to say about the analysis of privatized data which Caliper published today?

Maptitude maps show how Census differential privacy radically changes population counts

ASA_Census_Expert6 karma

Not sure what you mean by privatized data? If you mean data subject to differential privacy ( the new way the Census Bureau is thinking about protecting confidentiality in the 2020 Census ) there are still a lot of questions about how (and perhaps if) the Census Bureau will use this approach. If they continue down the path they are on, less data will be published in 2020 compared to 2010 and the accuracy of the data may be lower.WPO

fortheLOVEofBACON1 karma

When will the statistical community lead the charge to move away from p-values and towards probabilities?

ASA_Census_Expert5 karma

well... I though we started years ago. check out: " The ASA Statement on p-Values: Context, Process, and Purpose"



SyntheticAperture1 karma

You think you won the election to be President of the Statistical society, but what are your error bounds?

ASA_Census_Expert2 karma

not sure about error bounds but I *do* know I am bound to error

CIA_grade_LSD0 karma


ASA_Census_Expert2 karma

TL: The question won't be on the census form so there won't be any `direct' frightening. However, the (failed) effort to include it could well have a general chilling effect.

paper__planes0 karma

How can we be sure the Russians won’t interfere in the 2020 census?

ASA_Census_Expert1 karma

Truth be told, we cannot. But we can be pretty sure with the security measures that are in place.


demonspawn79-3 karma

> the census determines how many seats your state gets in the House of Representatives. OMG!

Do you think citizenship should be a required question on the census? God forbid this should ever happen, but would it be possible for a large number of non-citizens to enter the country, fill out some papers and drastically change the political landscape in congress?

ASA_Census_Expert2 karma

I think it's unlikely that could happen. The Census Bureau continuously updates a master address file. It's used to send snail mail, deploy field enumerators, and as one component of fraud detection.

spacedust666-10 karma

Why do you think the citizenship question was not allowed back on the census form and do you think illegal aliens are gaming our system for personal profit?

ASA_Census_Expert14 karma

Well, the facts are that the SCOTUS did not allow the Q and the WH didn't have time to do anything about that (the forms had to be printed). That is why it wasn't allowed back onto the census form.

IMHO -- both documented and undocumented immigrants are too busy trying to legitimately make a life for themselves and their families and stay under the radar in the current anti-immigrant policy environment. Trying to game the system is a great way of getting into legal trouble.


ASA_Census_Expert5 karma

And, it is constitutionally mandated to enumerate all residents, so at least regarding the count, I don't see an opportunity for gaming.