WASHINGTON _ Facing soaring costs and evidence that the 1990
census was in some ways the least accurate in decades, the Census
Bureau is planning wholesale changes in how it will collect data
in the year 2000 and beyond.
One change that is expected to be adopted, census officials
say, is the use of sophisticated estimates based on surveys to
supplement the actual counting _ a volatile issue that was the
center of a furious partisan battle in the last census.
The bureau is also considering scrapping the long-form survey
that has been used once a decade to gather information as varied
as household incomes or how many telephones a particular
In its place, the bureau plans extensive monthly surveys
conducted over an entire decade, providing a more timely flow of
this broad demographic data.
To increase the percentage of households that mail back the
census form _ which hit a record low of 65 percent in 1990 _ the
bureau is also considering a number of new steps like dispensing
census forms at post offices and other places and permitting
people to respond by telephone to a toll-free 800 number.
The extent of the changes _ driven by steeply rising costs and
the increasing diversity of the population _ has yet to be
determined. In addition, Congress may decide to Limit the changes
or keep things as they are.
The Census Bureau will test many of the ideas next year in New
Haven, Conn., Paterson, N.J., Oakland, Calif., and six rural
"These would be tremendous changes from the way we are doing
things now," said Robert Tortora, the bureau's associate director
for Statistics, Methodology and Standards, who is in charge of
redesigning the census.
Perhaps the most revolutionary change envisioned is the
proposal to extrapolate a final tally from samples of those who
are counted and those who do not return the census
In 1990, in an expensive endeavor, field workers called
enumerators conducted up to six visits to each of nearly 35
million households that had not returned the forms, to determine
how many people lived there.
In the next census, visits would be made to only a percentage
of these housing units and Census Bureau statisticians would
extrapolate from this sample the total number of people in all
nonresponding households. The precise percentage of households
slated for follow-up visits would be determined by the tests
planned next year. …