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Did the 2010 Census save taxpayer money or not?

By Ed O'Keefe

Following up on an issue he raised in the Federal Eye raised on Monday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) -- a vocal critic of 2010 Census operations -- has provided his math to prove that the 2010 Census was much more expensive than the 2000 Census and thus a failure.

Chaffetz believes it's "outrageous" for Commerce Department officials to even suggest that this year's headcount will save taxpayer money because when adjusted for household growth and inflation, this year's operations are set to cost 58 percent more than the 2000 efforts.

The U.S. Census Bureau will release the final participation rate numbers on Wednesday and will likely face questions about the costs and success or failure of the operations. In the meantime, take a look at Chaffetz's hard numbers to understand his reasoning and leave your thoughts in the comments section below:

Inflation adjustment:
2000 CPI: 172
2010 CPI: 217 (estimated)
CPI growth: 26.2%

Population adjustment:
2000 population: 281. 4 million
2010 population: 308.4 million
Population growth: 9.6% (Note: 2000 figure is for April 1; 2010 figure is for Jan. 1)

Household adjustment (as of March):
Source: Table 61 of Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2010
2000 households: 105.5 million
2010 households: 120 million (estimate based on 2008 number and growth from 2000 to 2008
Household growth from 2000 to 2010: 13.7%

Combined inflation/population adjustment:
Total adjustment = 1.262 * 1.096 - 100% = 38.3%

Combined inflation/household adjustment:
Total adjustment = 1.262 * 1.137 – 100% = 43.5%

Since household growth was higher than population growth, to be conservative household growth was used.

Cost of 2000 Census: $6.5 billion
Cost of 2010 Census: $14.7 billion (estimated)

Adjusting for inflation/household growth = 1.435 * $6.5 billion = $9.3 billion.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 27, 2010; 3:01 PM ET
Categories:  Census  
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My comment is that I need to see both sides. What's shown here is exactly and explicitly one side of an argument, and of course it's convincing in the total absence of the opposite side.

On many fictional court TV shows, you're completely persuaded by the attorney on one side, and then you hear the attorney on the opposite side and you are completely persuaded the opposite way. It's a common plot device.

The same thing happens in real life. This congressman is a man with an anti-Census Bureau agenda and his staff has done a good job building a case to represent his strong anti-Bureau point of view. Now we need to hear the argument on the other side, ideally from the Census Bureau, and we can judge.

It used to be that journalism worked that way (you would share this guy's figures with the Census Bureau for comment, then present both sides to us). Does being fair and including both sides take too long nowadays?

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | April 27, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Whatever party was in the White House was going to get bashed for it

Not shocking

Not much that the President could do except get the Census done as cheaply and correctly as possible

Posted by: Bious | April 27, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Just guessing, but I would imagine that a significant variable in the total cost of the census is wages paid to people who knock on doors of households who have not sent in their census forms. The higher the number of non-respondents, the higher the total wages paid to census workers to try to elicit the needed responses.

So with all the wingnuts out there on TV and radio urging their disciples to NOT send in their census forms, combined with the official party organizations sending junk mail designed to look like census forms, it's no wonder that the cost for this census is higher than it should be.

Posted by: TonyFo | April 28, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

So, here is likely the difference - it comes down to estimated (budgeted) vs. actual costs.

Sure, the Census had to be on the high end for budget and estimates. What if we had another Hurricane Katrina? Would we all just be okay with not counting those people? Or a terrorist attack? Would we be okay with everyone saying, "Well okay, we just won't have a census"? For big operations like this (required by law, by the way), you HAVE to have backups and contingencies for disasters, and you also have to assume a response rate on the low end so you are prepared with enough staff to knock door-to-door.

The assumption is, that if Census doesn't NEED to spend that budget, it won't. So far, luckily, no major disasters (that we know of). I am betting that when all costs are accounted for (early next year), the census will be found to come in way under the estimated budget. I'm hoping that money then goes into paying down the deficit.

While I'm sure some things could have been done more efficiently, we're talking chump change. The only other REAL option - revise the law requiring the census. You can't have it both ways, folks.

Posted by: XVA1 | April 28, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

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