Residence Principles for the Decennial Census

CHANGE DOES NOT COME EASILY to the decennial census; it is too large and intricate an operation for massive overhauls of operations or procedures to be feasible in a short amount of time. The quality of the resultant data is paramount, and so implementing procedures that have not been tested is inadvisable. A discussant at the 1986 Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) conference on residence rules noted similar comments on the nature of change in the census in one of the presented papers and wondered if the statement was mildly euphemistic, whether “this is perhaps another way of saying that we are unlikely to do much to make any needed improvements in time for the 1990 census, since we are beginning to think seriously about the problem in December of 1986” (Sweet, 1987:6). Twenty years later, with the 2010 census looming in the not-too-distant future and even with the benefit of somewhat better lead time, we face something of the same problem.

In our case, there are very promising signs of improvements to the collection of residence information in 2010. The advent of the American Community Survey and, with it, the narrowing of focus on a short-form-only decennial census is a considerable simplification and has permitted earlier attention to residence considerations than in the past. As we have noted, residence concepts were a primary focus of the 2005 census test and will be the topic of a further mailout experiment in 2006. Also, as witnessed in our panel’s public meetings, the Census Bureau has made good strides in redrafting and revising both the census residence rules and the definitions of group quarters.

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