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Once, Only Once, and in the Right Place: Residence Rules in the Decennial Census
reau should plan to ask a question on the usual residence of each household member in the ACS questionnaire, in order to evaluate the extent of incongruity of residence standards between the long-form replacement survey and the decennial census. The usual residence question should first be tested using the survey’s experimental “methods panel”; the resulting data should be fully evaluated and analyzed to refine final versions of the question.
The Census Bureau is considering unduplication methodologies for the 2010 census, building from innovations in the 2000 census and its success in probabilistically matching census records based on name and date of birth. In particular, the Bureau is exploring real-time unduplication during census processing and is developing an expanded coverage follow-up operation to provide data to help identify potential duplicates. Focus on duplication is important; however, Census Bureau research on living situations that do not easily fit census residence rules should strive to gather data on the sources of omissions in the census, as well as sources of duplication. In addition, a comprehensive assessment of the components of gross coverage error (both undercount and overcount) should be added as a regular part of the census evaluation program.
The mechanics of censustaking have changed greatly since marshals were first sent out on horseback in 1790; as times have changed, the “usual residence” concept has endured even though its exact interpretation has shifted. The most recent paradigm shift in defining residence in the census came with the adoption of mail-based enumeration for most of the census population in 1970; that shift included drawing a linkage between census residence and a specific mailing address. Looking to the future, over the long term, the Census Bureau research program needs to consider broader shifts that lie ahead—the impact of the Internet and e-mail and the diminished importance of traditional mailing addresses (and paper mail) in people’s lives, more transitory living arrangements, the changing need for census data as private and public databases grow in completeness.
There is a serious need for additional quantitative information on the magnitude of emerging social trends for groups, as well as a need for further qualitative assessment and better definitions of concepts. Important hypotheses can emerge from qualitative techniques such as ethnographic research, but these need to be tested quantitatively. People’s attachment to households and group quarters has changed significantly over several decades and is likely to continue to change in ways that cannot now be predicted with confidence. The Census Bureau should establish a standing research office whose task it is to continually monitor changes in factors influencing people’s attachments to locations where they are counted, and the connectedness of changes among them, using such information to generate appropriate research and recommendations for changes in how people can be more accurately enumerated in the decennial census.