census (see Box 5-3) provided some information on general response to residence questions and cues, but not with so large a sample that inference can be made about key groups like households with college or boarding school students or children in joint custody arrangements.
Our review of living situations in Chapters 3 and 4—situations in which ties to a single, “usual” residence are ambiguous—is meant to be comprehensive but not exhaustive. Moreover, even for the groups we profile in these chapters, not every detail or conceptual wrinkle that apply are described in these pages. However, we believe that the discussion in these two chapters does give rise to several fundamental baseline messages.
The first is a reaffirmation of a basic notion that is all too easy to forget. A recitation of the various hard-to-count population subgroups is a reminder that the American populace has never been easy to count. Conducting the decennial census is a tremendously difficult and complex task. It is useful to bear in mind that any process that tries to count approximately 300 million individuals, deploying hundreds of thousands of temporary staff and processing millions of questionnaires of various sorts, in roughly 6–8 months will necessarily have some shortcomings.
Second, the array of challenging living situations should dispel the notion that there are any quick or easy fixes. No set of residence rules or set of questions, however carefully developed and articulated, can completely eliminate error in the reporting of residence. Individual living situations, as well as respondents’ ability, willingness, and incentive to answer questions, are too varied to be addressed by any single procedure or “one size fits all” approach to data collection. What can be done is to solidify core concepts and adjust enumeration procedures to try for greatest improvement; this is the motivation for our call for a delineation of core residence principles in Chapter 6.
Third, though individuals’ living situations can vary greatly, our review does suggest some commonalities, in general structure and motives, across various hard-to-count groups. Single residence rules cannot be considered in isolation from each other; changes in the way one group is counted may have implications for the enumeration of others. For instance, the intent to return to a particular location, even when one is staying at a different place for some period of time, plays into the definition of “usual” residence for some people. The fact that prisoners may eventually return to a “home” community is suggested as an argument for counting prisoners there rather than at the prison. But in assessing that change, it is important to consider how much weight to put on intent to return: for prisoners, even though property may have changed hands or family members at “home” may have severed ties with