Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, delivered an hour-long presentation explaining the ins and outs of the decennial Census, the nation’s leading source of demographic data, yesterday at Cornell University.
Sponsored by Cornell’s Survey Research Institute, a research provider for students, faculty, government agencies and other organizations, more than 100 Cornell and local community members attended the lecture in the Biotechnology Building.
The 2010 Census discovered a 9.7 percent population growth over the past 10 years, which is the lowest growth rate since 1940. New York’s population rate grew by 2.1 percent. Since Census numbers determine congressional reapportionment, New York is scheduled to lose two seats in the House of Representatives. Texas, in comparison, will gain four seats after a 20.6 percent growth in population. The reapportioned Congress will take effect in January 2013, when the next Congress is sworn in.
Yasamin Miller, director of the Survey Research Institute, said the Census’ most significant role lies in congressional reapportionment.
“This is the data which will determine the distribution of power in the U.S. for the next 10 years,” she said.
After a brief introduction of the history of the Census, Groves discussed the year-long schedule of conducting the 2010 Census. Starting with the launch of an advertising campaign in January designed to raise awareness, Groves guided the audience through his 2010 job requirements. His year culminated with a Dec. 31 presentation of final Census data to President Barack Obama.
Even though Census forms are mostly completed and mailed by constituents before the end of April, Groves said he estimates a staff of approximately 600,000 workers knocked on tens of millions of doors of individuals and families that neglected to return a completed form.
For every 1 percent of Census form recipients that complete and mail the form, taxpayers save approximately $85 million in paying Census workers to conduct door-to-door follow-up visits, he said.
Groves said all the Bureau’s efforts last year focused on increasing the Census self-response rate. The 2010 Census was fully translated into six languages, Groves said. In addition, the Bureau used social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to reach out to younger demographics. The Bureau’s most concerted attempt to increase response rate was shortening the form’s requirements, he said.
“I said at least 10,000 times that [this was] the shortest questionnaire since 1790,” he said.
Groves proceeded to examine the future of the Census and the ways it could improve, stressing credibility as the primary objective. Furthermore, Groves said cutting Census costs will also be important, as many constituents view the process as a waste of taxpayer money and do not hesitate to express this belief.
“When we sent out the advance letter before you received the questionnaire, our e-mail system crashed,” he said. “The e-mails generally had in the subject line in capital letters, ‘Stop wasting our money!’”
While he said the Bureau’s ultimate goal is to accurately count each American once and in the correct area, Groves said this feat will never be reached, but this is an integral attribute of democracy.
“I can’t imagine a country and a society that could achieve a perfect Census, but I tell you, I wouldn’t want to live there,” he said. “You could imagine the kind of state controls that would be required to make sure you measure every person once and only once and in the right place. It’s not an attractive society, in my belief.”
Minho Roh, a Cornell international student in his first year in the U.S., said he attended the presentation for extra credit for a social research class but came away with a greater understanding of America.
“Because I’m an international student, I don’t really know about the demography of the United States,” he said. “[Now] I kind of get the idea.”
Miller said the Survey Research Institute hosts a distinguished lecturer every year, and when the institute first contacted Groves two months ago to visit the campus, she knew she contacted the ideal candidate.
“Given this is such a huge event for the country, it seemed very, very timely to invite him to talk about the Census,” she said.