A person wearing a mask walks past posters encouraging census participation in Seattle in April 2020. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted not only last year’s national count, but also a critical follow-up investigation that the US Census Bureau relies to determine the accuracy of the count. // AP, Ted S. Warren

Updated October 9, 2021, 4:50 p.m. ET

The US Census Bureau is extending a final round of the door in early 2022 for a key survey that should help determine the accuracy of last year’s national count, NPR has learned.

The change is the latest in a series of delays little-known but critical follow-up survey. The disruptions have raised concerns about whether the office can produce important indicators on who was missed and which groups were over or under counted in a census that was shaken by both the coronavirus pandemic and interference from the administration of former President Donald Trump.

The results of the post-censal survey are factored into the demographic statistics that guide how about $ 1.5 trillion per year in federal funds are distributed to local communities, as well as how to best carry out future decennial counts which are used to reallocate each state’s share of Congress seats and Electoral College votes.

In a statement to NPR on Friday, the office confirmed that what was supposed to be a month-long operation for collecting housing information from the end of October, is now expected to start in November and end in February.

“We have adjusted the start date and operational duration due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the timing of previous census operations,” the office said of the change to the post-survey. enumeration, which does not involve college dorms. , prisons or other group living quarters and is not conducted in remote areas of Alaska.

About 1,100 of the office’s field representatives – who, like all federal government employees, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 22 – will attempt to interview people in some 14,000 homes while wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Some out-of-office census observers fear that the difficulties of conducting in-person interviews during the pandemic may limit the usefulness of the survey results, which the office said it plans to start releasing in the first three months of 2022.

Have people of color been underestimated by the census?

Decade after decade, the U.S. Census has overcovered those who identify as white and non-Latino, while underestimating other racial and ethnic groups. This inequality often translates into inequalities when census data is used to redesign electoral districts and inform research and planning.

“I’m just worried that we have a starting point for the next 10 years of counts that underestimate people of color,” Robert Santos, president of the American Statistical Association and President Biden’s choice for the next Census Bureau director, told NPR in an interview before his appointment in April.

Santos, who is waiting for the Senate to vote to confirm it, added that not having reliable PES results risked mainstreaming racial inequalities into other government statistics that rely on census data.

“I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Santos said.

Many people don’t want to talk to Census Bureau employees because of COVID-19

Door knocks for the PES, which takes place in several phases, started as initially planned in January 2020. It was due to end in mid-2021.

But COVID-19 quickly intervened.

Below-expected levels of public participation in the final months of 2020 led the office to add another round of interviews on people’s demographics.

These early response rates were hit by a devastating new reality – “people don’t want to open their doors to talk to a stranger during a pandemic,” the office acknowledged in a March presentation to its scientific advisory committee. This increases the risk that the office will miss some people not only in the census but also in the follow-up survey that determines who was not counted.

“When the PES comes out, I worry about its possible quality because the investigation must have been carried out in the teeth of the winter outbreak of COVID,” says Connie Citro, senior researcher at the National Academy of Sciences Committee on national statistics who served as the principal study director of the 2000 census evaluation committee.

Could COVID-19 prevent the office from releasing the results of the investigation?

Delays in the survey make it more difficult for the office to collect accurate data. The tally for 2020 has been over for almost a year, and some PES interviewees may have trouble remembering exactly where they lived on Census Day, which was April 1, 2020. People who moved during the pandemic may not know who was living at their current address.

And many households are experiencing census fatigue.

“They are not ready to see another enumerator come knocking on the door,” Bob Leibowitz, Census Bureau survey technician in the New York area, told the 2020 census quality committee panel at a virtual meeting in August.

Data quality issues caused by the pandemic have already forced the office to cancel a publication of the results of the American community survey this year and replace them with “experimental” estimates. Some census observers fear that the post-enumeration survey is headed towards a similar fate.

There are the first signs of a likely undercoverage of blacks

Meanwhile, researchers outside the office have compared the latest census figures with a set of reference data on the basis of birth and death certificates, health insurance registration records and other government documents relating to residents of the country.

“It appears that the 2020 census had issues with undercoverage for some groups,” said Citro, who recently conducted independent analysis it was not part of his work with the committee.

Using publicly available data and a different method than that used for the PES, Citro estimates that nationally, the 2020 census may have produced a net undercoverage rate for blacks similar to that of the office. . Estimated PES for the 2010 count (2.05%) or more than twice as high (4.36%).

“The Census Bureau has only done a heroic and truly exceptional job, but they had to face a combination of circumstances to conduct a census unprecedented in our history,” said Citro, who previously worked as an analyst in social sciences in the office early in his career, said of the pandemic and pressure from Trump officials to stop counting sooner.

Children were also probably underestimated in 2020

There are also signs that the 2020 census probably did not correct a decades-long flaw with the national count: the undercoverage of children.

“All the evidence I see from the 2020 census suggests this is going to be a lingering problem,” says Bill O’Hare, demographer and former office researcher who wrote the book Undercoverage of young children in the U.S. decennial census.

O’Hare, who currently consults the Count All Kids campaign, estimates that the net undercoverage rate for children rose to 2.1% last year, while adults had a net overcoverage rate of less than ‘one percent for the 2020 census, according to a report published this week. The report also cites preliminary estimates by Citroën which suggest that the net undercoverage rates for black and Latin children were about double those for all children.

Still, Citro and O’Hare say they are waiting for the PES results to reveal a more complete overview of the count’s accuracy.

Jeri Green, former senior adviser for civic engagement in the office, remains concerned that the 2020 census – which the agency recently estimated at around $ 14.2 billion – will repeat underestimation of Blacks and Latinos, as well as Native Americans who live on reservations, in the 2010 census.

“The US taxpayer is being fooled, congressional officials who funded the census also don’t get their money’s worth if the PES and undercoverage isn’t accurate,” Green said. “And we have to live with that for the next 10 years.”

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