Online access, data improvements essential for 2030 census, cities say
In a letter to the Census Bureau, the National League of Cities detailed common hurdles local governments faced during the 2020 census — and suggestions for improvements.
Though the 2030 census is years away, the Census Bureau has been planning for it since 2019. In August, the bureau started soliciting comments from stakeholders on development and implementation strategies that could improve the way people participate in the 2030 census.
Looking to provide feedback, the National League of Cities in October requested local governments to fill out a survey documenting ways to improve data collection for the 2030 census. Responses were summarized in a Nov. 10 letter sent to the bureau, detailing how the 2030 census could avoid undercounts and inaccurate representations of communities.
NLC’s letter said it received comments from numerous government authorities noting that disadvantaged individuals such as senior or low-income residents were still left unaccounted for even with the technology advancements of the 2020 census—the first time the bureau encouraged individuals to respond to the survey online. For residents with limited access to the internet or digital devices or who were otherwise not “technically savvy,” the convenience of an electronic option was lost, NLC’s CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony said in the letter.
“It is imperative as more of the Census moves online by 2030 that the technological and digital divide does not cause municipal residents to be undercounted because they do not have access to or the knowledge of how to operate technology,” Anthony wrote.
NLC suggested the bureau provide local government grants to establish sites, purchase equipment and hire personnel that would help bridge that digital divide so disadvantaged populations could still participate in the survey. Representatives from Iowa and Washington requested that census websites have more accessible features such as drop-down menus or autofill options for address information and more language options to accommodate residents that needed it.
Another major concern was the foundation of inaccurate data sources that the census was built on. Responding to the NLC survey, a representative of Marietta, Georgia, said two census workers appeared at a recreational field complex asking for the location of an apartment complex as their map showed it on the grounds.
“We had demolished that complex 7 years before and had been sending in map updates on an annual basis,” they were quoted as saying in NLC’s letter. “We also participated in the special map update process before the Census began.”
Similarly, an official of Vidalia, Georgia, stated that changes in the census blocks from the 2010 count to the 2020 survey made it impossible to use the 2010 census for reference during the most recent count. The official also pointed out that not every address submitted to the bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses and New Construction programs—which allow governments to review and update addresses for the census—was included in the Master Address File.
NLC urged the Census Bureau to work with local officials to update the Master Address File and to allow government access to the bureau’s maps ahead of time to review any mistakes in the data before field workers begin their assignments.
Summarizing the leaders’ concerns, “the biggest one is the need for more funding for city staff to be able to…do accurate counts,” NLC Legislative Director for Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations Michael Gleeson said in an interview.
“It’s critically important that every city, town and village have the accurate representation,” Gleeson said. “It’s not just the $1.5 trillion in annual federal funds, there’s also apportionment and representation in Congress and other federal programs that rely on accurate counts for the census.”
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau this week proposed amending its regulations for the Population Estimates Challenge program, which gives governments an opportunity to challenge the census’ population estimates by providing additional data or by identifying a technical error in how input data was processed or how estimates were produced. The amendments would update references to the input data used for population estimates and revise the evidence required to file a challenge.
The bureau is also soliciting comments regarding the methodology and data sources the agency uses to produce annual estimates and what factual or methodological arguments it uses for evaluating challenges.
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