February 24th 2016 - Written by: Suzan Reagan

Preparing for the 2020 Census is already underway


United States Census 2020

Right now the Census Bureau is making important decisions about the next decennial census. It might seem like April 1, 2020 is a long way away from now, but the Bureau published its operational plan back in October last year. The director John Thompson noted in his blog on February, 5, 2016  that this year there will be 62 key decisions made that will effect how the 2020 Census will be carried out. There are also two census advisory committees which have been active in providing recommendations for improvements.

While the operational plan outlines in extensive detail lots of activities, there are a few key items that New Mexicans should be aware of. These are programs, which will be requesting information from the states that leading up to the decennial census, will affect how well the data are collected at that time.

  • Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS)
    • This program is the primary way that local, county, and tribal governments ensure that their legal boundaries are correctly recorded with the federal government. Consequently, this affects official population counts and area names. Typically this program contacts the highest-elected official, such as the mayor or county executive. This program will also contact GIS staff, planner, clerk, or other individuals that the government instructs them to work with. Finally, in some cases the relevant state-level official will also be contacted. This program runs annually. Every December contact letters are sent out with a deadline of response of March 1st for the changes to be available in the next Population Estimates Program and American Community Survey. Ultimately, the boundaries maintained by this program are used for the decennial census.
  • Redistricting
    • One of the primary uses of Census population numbers is in the establishment of congressional districts for the purpose of electing representatives.  This program has 5 phases. The first two phases work with local authorities to define the small areas for which specific data tabulations are desired such as census block boundaries, voting districts, and state legislative districts. This program is currently in Phase I: The Block Boundary Suggestion Project for 2016. Next year, Phase II: The Voting District Project will start. Further information on these programs is contained in the Federal Register Notice.
  • Local Update of Census Address (LUCA) Program
    • The Census Bureau uses a Master Address File to send out the actual census materials to households. The LUCA program provides an opportunity for designated representatives of local, state, and tribal governments to review addresses contained in the Census Bureau’s MAF/TIGER database. This program is scheduled to start in 2017.
  • Participant Statistical Areas Program (PSAP)
    • This program works with  designated participants to review and suggest modifications to the boundaries for block groups, census tracts, census county divisions, and census designated places for reporting data from the decennial census. This program should start up in 2017 with participants being identified by 2018.
  • Geographic Support System Initiative (GSSI)
    • The purpose of this program is to maintain the Census Bureau’s geographic framework for data collection, tabulation, and dissemination. This is an ongoing program and has recently been re-engineering the address canvassing operation, which will allow the Census Bureau to focus on areas of the country where change is occurring in 2020.

In New Mexico, if we want to see improved data for our needs in funding, city planning, school district studies, and general social research, we need to be proactive in these early steps toward the 2020 Census. As the programs mentioned above reach out to their specific state contacts, data users need to provide comments about how current information could be made more informative by our state contacts correctly responding. If you have been working with Census data and have identified a potential issue now is the time to bring it up to ensure that it’s not an issue in the next decennial census. Your options include contacting your local government and elected officials to both let them know how important it is to participate in this program and to point out the potential issue you identified. Also, please feel free to contact the Data Bank 277-6626 as we can help facilitate the conversation with the Census Bureau.

The Bureau of Business & Economic Research employs a diverse staff with a wide range of specializations and interests. The views and opinions expressed on this blog belong to the individual authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BBER or UNM.