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2020 Census will have an online option

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! How will Americans use the Internet in 2020? Will we all use cell phones? Will we still have snail mail?

A team of experts at the U.S. Census Bureau is asking those questions in preparation for the 2020 Census even as temporary workers are knocking on doors to complete the 2010 Census. Final answers won't be needed for about eight years, but the team hopes to keep costs below the $14.7 billion budget for the 2010 Census and to make it possible for at least some Americans to answer census questions via the Internet.

“None of us can imagine doing a 2020 Census without an Internet option,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in an interview. Though he's overseeing the 2010 Census, most of his tenure will be tied to 2020 preparations -- and he's pushing for a more efficient operation with fewer people.

“The easiest way to reduce costs in the Census is to reduce manpower,” Groves said. “To the extent that we can reduce the number of census worker visits in 2020, we're going to save a lot of money.”

The cost and time benefits are obvious, but Groves said a Web option "will really be great for those people who are difficult to contact in person who are at home very infrequently." The agency won't move entirely online, since a Web-only effort would make it difficult to count rural areas or illiterate people, he said.

Internet options will be tested in the next ten years with the annual American Community Survey that tracks demographic and economic statistics. Groves expects the agency would send the questionnaire in paper format with an Internet address and code allowing people to submit answers online.

Canada did something similar with its 2006 census and 18.6 percent of respondents replied online, said Mark Hamel, manager of the 2011 census for Statistics Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the Census Bureau. Every Canadian household received a paper form with a secure access code and the agency used a computer network with double encryption similar to the security features used for online banking, he said.

“Everything indicates that we're going to be able to more than double our online responses in 2011,” Hamel said. “We demonstrated that the data collected online is much cleaner than it is on paper, because when people answer online, we can make sure that they're answering the questions that are appropriate for them.”

So if the 2020 Census goes online, looks like we can Blame Canada.

Would you fill out your census information online?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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By Ed O'Keefe  | May 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Census, Eye Opener  
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And an online option for the 2010 census didn't cross their minds in 2000?!!

Posted by: Canton55 | May 18, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

With an online system, all kinds of mischief could be made: e.g. fake names; the same name with different info; fake addresses, hacking, etc.

Also, with an internet option, will the Census Bureau finally stop making excuses for why it can't count American citizens who are abroad at the time of the census?

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | May 18, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Last year I received an "entended" census form to complete. I attempted it but after an hour I still was not finished and I just tossed it. This year I recieve dthe "short" form. With 9 people living here there is nothing short about it. I also received a follow up call for "quality assurances" purposes. It was so long, I burned my dinner answering the questions. I would be thrilled to have an Internet option especially if I could copy and paste responses to redundent questions.

Posted by: georgettec28 | May 18, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

To be accurate, Statistics Canada is not the equivalent of the Census Bureau, it's the equivalent of the entire US federal statistical system, including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics, and myriad other statistical offices located within Executive Branch offices such as the IRS and the Agriculture Department.

Posted by: vapensant1 | May 18, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

An internet option would be welcome, but if the Census Bureau would just ask the questions they really want answers to, they wouldn't have to waste additional taxpayer money with follow-up phone calls and personal visits. They seem to have tried so hard to make it "simple" that they made it useless!

Posted by: leuchars | May 18, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

In 2010, I received 2 postcards plus the short census form. All three pieces of mail were addressed to my street address with my zip code in a neighboring city (in fact, every census form received in my town was addressed to the incorrect city.)

My sister, who has lived in her house in the same town for 35 years, received NO mail from the Census. We went to the library and picked up a form for her, which she submitted before the deadline. Now, she has received two follow-up visits from census workers, who want her to complete the census. (They say they're having "computer problems")

Would we submit our census forms online? A no-brainer; I have no confidence at all in the accuracy or completeness of the 2010 Census.

Posted by: lalex1 | May 18, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

We live and work on the Hill, and have been in our place for about 15 years now.

We never received a census form, nor has any effort to contact us been made.

An on-line option would be great, but too late for 2010; we have no expectation of being counted this census.

Posted by: HillRat | May 18, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

The Census Bureau sucks as an employer.

Posted by: mortified469 | May 18, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

The Census budget, to count approx. 310 million people, is $14.7 billion. That works out to over $47 per person.
Does it really cost $47 per person to count even the hardest to reach populations?

Posted by: vtavgjoe | May 18, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

sure I would Ed, if the economic crisis didn't take the Internet away because I couldn't pay the bill for access !!!

Let's see, cable and internet access are the first thing that is goin' down the tubes in families and households.
Everyone is broke.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 18, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I received two census forms - at the right address - right zip code - wrong town.

Just for grins and giggles, I completed them both and mailed them back and guess what?

A census taker left a note on my door to schedule a time to gather census data.

I was counted three times this time - more money for seniors.

Something in my gut tells me I may not be able to pull this off again with an internet option.

Posted by: asmith1 | May 18, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

My ability to contribute to the US Census for 2010 was to be "self motivated" because of my receiving mail at a PO Box.
The Postmaster in my area gave me the 800 number to call and request a Census Form be sent to my box number.... it arrived within a few days. I completed the form answering all the questions along with supplying my home phone number.

The call came last night.... a request for personal information that I will not divulge in an (after hours) phone call or online.... information that has nothing to do with counting the population or enhancing government services in my area.

I also join those who have stated they have no confidence in the 2010 census.

Posted by: motiv8ed | May 18, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

My family, some friends and I refused to participate this year because they are counting illegals.
I will do the same in 2020 if they are still counting illegals.

Posted by: r_leever | May 18, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Good but the amount of hacking and computer troubles will be massive

Posted by: Bious | May 19, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

My family, some friends and I refused to participate this year because they are counting illegals. I will do the same in 2020 if they are still counting illegals.

Very clever. So the city/town where you reside will received less funding that it should receive.

Census counts residents, period. It doesn't distinguish who is legal or not. That's up to USCIS and enforcement agencies. Be aware that undocumented residents also use the roads, public safety, etc. services you so. When they are counted in the census, your town/city/state benefits from federal funding according to your population. And, congressional apportionment is calculated on residents. Counting "illegals" benefits you in both instances.

You have a beef with the immigration laws and lack of enforcement, tell your senators and reps and appropriate U.S. agencies. The Census only counts heads.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | May 21, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

And, BTW, the Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. You could be fined or actually do some jail time for lack of participation.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | May 21, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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