In rural America, census takers relied more on neighbors

An Associated Press review of the first data-quality measurements released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month shows some early patterns that may point to red flags in the data that could emerge when more detailed numbers from the 2020 census are released in August.

While it's too early to reach any conclusions about the accuracy of the data gathered during the once-a-decade head count, these types of responses—a reliance on proxies for answers and just a head count with no basic demographic information—result in poorer quality data compared to other methods.

Poor quality data can diminish the political power and resources available to communities across the U.S.: Children who are missed in the census deprive communities of money for building schools, and undercounting racial or ethnic minorities prevents them from forming minority-majority political districts.

The bureau released data quality measurements last month as part of an effort to engender confidence in the numbers following a head count challenged by the spread of the new coronavirus, concerns about politicization by the Trump administration and natural disasters. The bureau also is allowing a team of outside statisticians to perform quality checks.

The measurements include state-by-state breakdowns of rates of households that answered the census questionnaire on their own, the percentage of households where a member answered a census taker's questions and the rate of households where information was gathered from administrative records from agencies like the IRS or Social Security Administration. Answers gathered from these methods are considered higher quality than proxies and population-only counts.

People walk on the street, Monday, April 26, 2021 in New York. The once-a-decade head count of the United States shows where the population grew during the past 10 years and where it shrank. New York will lose one seat in Congress as a result of national population shifts, according to census data released Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

In this Jan. 20, 2020, file photo, census workers verify that their maps match up to the right amount of houses in Toksook Bay, Alaska, a mostly Yup'ik village on the edge of the Bering Sea. Alaska's population grew by 23,160 people, or 3.3%, in the last decade, according to the first numbers released Monday for the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

States that will gain or lose congressional seats in the wake of the 2020 census.

People walk on the street, Monday, April 26, 2021 in New York. The once-a-decade head count of the United States shows where the population grew during the past 10 years and where it shrank. New York will lose one seat in Congress as a result of national population shifts, according to census data released Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)