NYU Furman Center Comment on 2020 U.S. Census

Research & Policy | September 4th 2018

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NYU Furman Center submitted a comment to the Department of Commerce on the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. The U.S. Census is a vitally important source of data for researchers and policy makers across the country, and specifically for the Furman Center’s research and analysis on housing and urban policy issues. Information from the decennial census is critical to our work, and informs numerous data sets and surveys that we use, including the American Community Survey and the American Housing Survey.

We depend on accurate and complete Census data to ensure the integrity of our research and to produce findings that policy makers can rely on to make evidence-based decisions about important housing and land use policy issues at the local, state, and federal level. Using data from the Census, we have conducted policy research and analysis on a variety of pressing issues including rental housing trends in America's largest metro areas, the state of housing and neighborhoods in New York City, and how Small Area Fair Market Rents affect the availability of homes affordable to housing voucher holders. We have also examined the impact of segregation on the economic and educational outcomes of young Black and Latino adults and how reductions in crime shape residential choices for households of different demographics

We are concerned about the potential impact of a citizenship question on the accuracy of the 2020 U.S. Census and urge the Department of Commerce to delay adding the question until it satisfactorily addresses two issues of particular concern:

Inadequate Testing and Evaluation of the Citizenship Question

The Census Bureau typically conducts rigorous testing and evaluation of census questions before making changes to the survey. The citizenship question has not been rigorously tested for the 2020 Census, and it has not been used on a U.S. Census since 1950.  Adequate testing of survey questions is critical to identify potential problems that can emerge based on question design, order, and/or wording choices. Implementing the citizenship question without sufficient testing can compromise the quality of all responses. It can also undermine the standard Census testing and evaluation process and reduce  confidence in the data collected.

Potential Impact of the Citizenship Question on Census Data Accuracy and Utility for Longitudinal Research

The value of the U.S. Census data – for policy analysis and research, depends critically on its accuracy in counting residents and documenting their demographics. There is growing concern among civil rights and community leaders that adding the citizenship question may lower participation among specific communities, leading to an inaccurate population count. Additionally, Census Bureau researchers have reported a “recent increase in respondents spontaneously expressing concerns to researchers and field staff about confidentiality and data access relating to immigration” and expressed “concerns within CSM regarding potential barriers to respondent participation in the 2020 Census, as well as other Census Bureau surveys.”

Read the full comment to the U.S. Department of Commerce (PDF: 149 KB) >>

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