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Last active Apr 24, 2019

What would you like to do?
Census Chief Scientist John Abowd on the citizenship question

An excerpt From

Alternative B: Add the question on citizenship to the 2020 Census questionnaire Under this alternative, we would add the ACS question on citizenship to the 2020 Census questionnaire and ISR instrument. We would then produce the block-level citizen voting-age population by race and ethnicity tables during the 2020 Census publication phase.

Since the question is already asked on the American Community Survey, we would accept the cognitive research and questionnaire testing from the ACS instead of independently retesting the citizenship question. This means that the cost of preparing the new question would be minimal. We did not prepare an estimate of the impact of adding the citizenship question on the cost of reprogramming the Internet Self-Response (ISR) instrument, revising the Census Questionnaire Assistance (CQA), or redesigning the printed questionnaire because those components will not be finalized until after the March 2018 submission of the final questions. Adding the citizenship question is similar in scope and cost to recasting the race and ethnicity questions again, should that become necessary, and would be done at the same time.

After the 2020 Census ISR, CQA and printed questionnaire are in final form, adding the citizenship question would be much more expensive and would depend on exactly when the implementation decision was made during the production cycle.

For these reasons, we analyzed Alternative B in terms of its adverse impact on the rate of voluntary cooperation via self-response, the resulting increase in nonresponse followup (NRFU), and the consequent effects on the quality of the self-reported citizenship data. Three distinct analyses support the conclusion of an adverse impact on self-response and, as a result, on the accuracy and quality of the 2020 Census. We assess the costs of increased NRFU in light of the results of these analyses.

B.1. Quality of citizenship responses

We considered the quality of the citizenship responses on the ACS. In this analysis we estimated item nonresponse rates for the citizenship question on the ACS from 2013 through 2016. When item nonresponse occurs, the ACS edit and imputation modules are used to allocate an answer to replace the missing data item. This results in lower quality data because of the statistical errors in these allocation models. The analysis of the self-responses responses is done using ACS data from 2013-2016 because of operational changes in 2013, including the introduction of the ISR option and changes in the followup operations for mail-in questionnaires.

In the period from 2013 to 2016, item nonresponse rates for the citizenship question on the mail-in questionnaires for non-Hispanic whites (NHW) ranged from 6.0% to 6.3%, non-Hispanic blacks (NHB) ranged from 12.0% to 12.6%, and Hispanics ranged from 11.6 to 12.3%. In that same period, the ISR item nonresponse rates for citizenship were greater than those for mail-in questionnaires. In 2013, the item nonresponse rates for the citizenship variable on the ISR instrument were NHW: 6.2%, NHB: 12.3% and Hispanic: 13.0%. By 2016 the rates increased for NHB and especially Hispanics. They were NHW: 6.2%, NHB: 13.1%, and Hispanic: 15.5% (a 2.5 percentage point increase). Whether the response is by mail-in questionnaire or ISR instrument, item nonresponse rates for the citizenship question are much greater than the comparable rates for other demographic variables like sex, birthdate/age, and race/ethnicity (data not shown).

B.2. Self-response rate analyses

We directly compared the self-response rate in the 2000 Census for the short and long forms, separately for citizen and noncitizen households. In all cases, citizenship status of the individuals in the household was determined from administrative record sources, not from the response on the long form. A noncitizen household contains at least one noncitizen. Both citizen and noncitizen households have lower self- response rates on the long form compared to the short form; however, the decline in self-response for noncitizen households was 3.3 percentage points greater than the decline for citizen households. This analysis compared short and long form respondents, categories which were randomly assigned in the design of the 2000 Census.

We compared the self-response rates for the same household address on the 2010 Census and the 2010 American Community Survey, separately for citizen and noncitizen households. Again, all citizenship data were taken from administrative records, not the ACS, and noncitizen households contain at least one noncitizen resident. In this case, the randomization is over the selection of household addresses to receive the 2010 ACS. Because the ACS is an ongoing survey sampling fresh households each month, many of the residents of sampled households completed the 2010 ACS with the same reference address as they used for the 2010 Census. Once again, the self-response rates were lower in the ACS than in the 2010 Census for both citizen and noncitizen households. In this 2010 comparison, moreover, the decline in self- response was 5.1 percentage points greater for noncitizen households than for citizen households.

In both the 2000 and 2010 analyses, only the long-form or ACS questionnaire contained a citizenship question. Both the long form and the ACS questionnaires are more burdensome than the shortform. Survey methodologists consider burden to include both the direct time costs of responding and the indirect costs arising from nonresponse due to perceived sensitivity of the topic. There are, consequently, many explanations for the lower self-response rates among all household types on these longer questionnaires. However, the only difference between citizen and noncitizen households in our studies was the presence of at least one noncitizen in noncitizen households. It is therefore a reasonable inference that a question on citizenship would lead to some decline in overall self-response because it would make the 2020 Census modestly more burdensome in the direct sense, and potentially much more burdensome in the indirect sense that it would lead to a larger decline in self-response for noncitizen households.

B.3. Breakoff rate analysis

We examined the response breakoff paradata for the 2016 ACS. We looked at all breakoff screens on the ISR instrument, and specifically at the breakoffs that occurred on the screens with the citizenship and related questions like place of birth and year of entry to the U.S. Breakoff paradata isolate the point in answering the questionnaire where a respondent discontinues entering data—breaks off—rather than finishing. A breakoff is different from failure to self-respond. The respondent started the survey and was prepared to provide the data on the Internet Self-Response instrument, but changed his or her mind during the interview.

Hispanics and non-Hispanic non-whites (NHNW) have greater breakoff rates than non-Hispanic whites (NHW). In the 2016 ACS data, breakoffs were NHW: 9.5% of cases while NHNW: 14.1% and Hispanics: 17.6%. The paradata show the question on which the breakoff occurred. Only 0.04% of NHW broke off on the citizenship question, whereas NHNW broke off 0.27% and Hispanics broke off 0.36%. There are three related questions on immigrant status on the ACS: citizenship, place of birth, and year of entry to the United States. Considering all three questions Hispanics broke off on 1.6% of all ISR cases, NHNW: 1.2% and NHW: 0.5%. A breakoff on the ISR instrument can result in follow-up costs, imputation of missing data, or both. Because Hispanics and non-Hispanic non-whites breakoff much more often than non-Hispanic whites, especially on the citizenship-related questions, their survey response quality is differentially affected.

B.4. Cost analysis

Lower self-response rates would raise the cost of conducting the 2020 Census. We discuss those increased costs below. They also reduce the quality of the resulting data. Lower self-response rates degrade data quality because data obtained from NRFU have greater erroneous enumeration and whole-person imputation rates. An erroneous enumeration means a census person enumeration that should not have been counted for any of several reasons, such as, that the person (1) is a duplicate of a correct enumeration; (2) is inappropriate (e.g., the person died before Census Day); or (3) is enumerated in the wrong location for the relevant tabulation ( A whole-person census imputation is a census microdata record for a person for which all characteristics are imputed.

Our analysis of the 2010 Census coverage errors (Census Coverage Measurement Estimation Report: Summary of Estimates of Coverage for Persons in the United States, Memo G-01) contains the relevant data. That study found that when the 2010 Census obtained a valid self-response (219 million persons), the correct enumeration rate was 97.3%, erroneous enumerations were 2.5%, and whole-person census imputations were 0.3%. All erroneous enumeration and whole-person imputation rates are much greater for responses collected in NRFU. The vast majority of NRFU responses to the 2010 Census (59 million persons) were collected in May. During that month, the rate of correct enumerations was only 90.2%, the rate of incorrect enumeration was 4.8%, and the rate of whole-person census imputations was 5.0%. June NRFU accounted for 15 million persons, of whom only 84.6% were correctly enumerated, with erroneous enumerations of 5.7%, and whole-person census imputations of 9.6%. (See Table 19 of 2010 Census Memorandum G-01. That table does not provide statistics for all NRFU cases in aggregate.)

One reason that the erroneous enumeration and whole-person imputation rates are so much greater during NRFU is that the data are much more likely to be collected from a proxy rather than a household member, and, when they do come from a household member, that person has less accurate information than self- responders. The correct enumeration rate for NRFU household member interviews is 93.4% (see Table 21 of 2010 Census Memorandum G-01), compared to 97.3% for non-NRFU households (see Table 19). The information for 21.0% of the persons whose data were collected during NRFU is based on proxy responses. For these 16 million persons, the correct enumeration rate is only 70.1%. Among proxy responses, erroneous enumerations are 6.7% and whole-person census imputations are 23.1% (see Table 21).

Using these data, we can develop a cautious estimate of the data quality consequences of adding the citizenship question. We assume that citizens are unaffected by the change and that an additional 5.1% of households with at least one noncitizen go into NRFU because they do not self-respond. We expect about 126 million occupied households in the 2020 Census. From the 2016 ACS, we estimate that 9.8% of all households contain at least one noncitizen. Combining these assumptions implies an additional 630,000 households in NRFU. If the NRFU data for those households have the same quality as the average NRFU data in the 2010 Census, then the result would be 139,000 fewer correct enumerations, of which 46,000 are additional erroneous enumerations and 93,000 are additional whole-person census imputations. This analysis assumes that, during the NRFU operations, a cooperative member of the household supplies data 79.0% of the time and 21.0% receive proxy responses. If all of these new NRFU cases go to proxy responses instead, the result would be 432,000 fewer correct enumerations, of which 67,000 are erroneous enumerations and 365,000 are whole-person census imputations.

For Alternative B, our estimate of the incremental cost proceeds as follows. Using the analysis in the paragraph above, the estimated NRFU workload will increase by approximately 630,000 households, or approximately 0.5 percentage points. We currently estimate that for each percentage point increase in NRFU, the cost of the 2020 Census increases by approximately $55 million. Accordingly, the addition of a question on citizenship could increase the cost of the 2020 Census by at least $27.5 million. It is worth stressing that this cost estimate is a lower bound. Our estimate of $55 million for each percentage point increase in NRFU is based on an average of three visits per household. We expect that many more of these noncitizen households would receive six NRFU visits.

We believe that $27.5 million is a conservative estimate because the other evidence cited in this report suggests that the differences between citizen and noncitizen response rates and data quality will be amplified during the 2020 Census compared to historical levels. Hence, the decrease in self-response for citizen households in 2020 could be much greater than the 5.1 percentage points we observed during the 2010 Census.

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