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Social Science and the U.S. 2020 Census

"The chief instrument of American statistics is the census, which should accomplish a two-fold object. It should serve the country by making a full and accurate exhibit of the elements of national life and strength, and it should serve the science of statistics by so exhibiting general results that they may be compared with similar data obtained by other nations."
James A. Garfield
20th American president

The United States Census, in the mandated decennial census and products like the American Community Survey, is the premiere source of longitudinal public data about the population of the United States available. As such, it is of immense importance to social and behavioral researchers as well as the more traditional audiences of policymakers, politicians and the public. This collection of articles and resources offers the social science community opinions, updates and tips about the Census process, funding and uses.

Upcoming Event: 

APDU Workshop Series: Making the Best of the 2020 Census

Accurate statistics about 2020 will rely on much more than the decennial census data collection. Developing reliable data will require an understanding of challenges resulting from the pandemic, combined with greater use of non-traditional sources like administrative records. The solutions to these problems will impact how data is gathered going forward for a variety of purposes: education, housing, economic development, public health, and more.

Register today for this series of town hall events and trainings. During this workshop series you will learn more about the quality of the data that state and local leaders rely on and how you can improve and supplement it.

Town Hall #1: April 14, 2021 (3:00 – 4:00 PM ET)
2020 Census was “Different” – A Rundown of Issues

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National Academies Seeks Experts to Assess 2020 U.S. Census

The National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics seeks nominations for members of an ad hoc consensus study panel — sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau — to review and evaluate the quality of the 2020 Census.


Will the 2020 Census Be the Last of Its Kind?

Could the 2020 iteration of the United States Census, the constitutionally mandated count of everyone present in the nation, be the last of its kind?


Will We See A More Private, But Less Useful, Census?

Census data can be pretty sensitive – it’s not just how many people live in a neighborhood, a town, a […]

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Some Americans Don’t Trust the Census

The 2020 census is fraught with uncertainty for a variety of reasons, including a lack of money, a growing distrust in government and the months of debate over the now-dropped citizenship question – which the Census Bureau itself called a major barrier to participation.

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A Shortened Census Count Hurts Communities of Color

The 2020 Census will count fewer Black Americans, Indigenous peoples, Asian Americans and Americans of Hispanic or Latino origin than actually live in the U.S. That will mean less public money for essential services in their communities, and less representation by elected officials at the state and federal levels.

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Looking at Censuses Past and Future: A Talk With Andrew Whitby

In an age where issues of ethnicity and identity matter, as well, as in the United States, political representation, the import and impact of censuses, along with how they are structured, carried out and analyzed, matters greatly. And with the U.S. Census being conducted this year – today, April 1, is Census Day, although coronavirus-marred collection of data will continue until August 14 – this is an apt time to talk with author Andrew Whitby about censuses past, present and future.


How Prisoners, Soldiers and Missionaries Complicate the Census

There are three groups that have consistently posed problems to the U.S. census throughout history and continue to spark debate to this day: military members, Mormon missionaries and prisoners.

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COVID, the Census, and the Looming University Undercount

Counties with large universities depend heavily on student responses to the decennial census, because the census counts determine the levels of federal funding communities receive. And if those students are counted as being there …?


Finding Students: ALA Contributing to the 2020 Census

 The American Library Association is preparing academic libraries for the U.S. Census — the decennial count of every person living […]


A Century Ago, Congress Dismissed a U.S. Census

Census 2020 is far from the first census to set off bitter political fights. One hundred years ago, results from Census 1920 initiated a decadelong struggle about how to allocate a state’s seats in Congress. The political arguments were so bitter that Congress eventually decided they would not use Census 1920 results.

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Research and the Census: Exploring the Labor Force

The concept of the labor force describes a person’s employment status, and like all U.S. Census Bureau definitions, the terminology is quite specific. The labor force consists of all people 16 years of age or older who are working (employed), are not working but are actively seeking work (unemployed)…

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What is Census Data?

When most Americans think of the census, they think of the 10-year or decennial census that is used to gather basic data about the total population. The decennial census is an actual count of people and housing units, and it serves as the baseline for measuring and generating other census data-sets…

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The Census Project is a broad-based coalition of national, state, and local organizations that support an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census and American Community Survey. Its member organizations, representing the private, public, non-profit, and academic sectors, rely on objective data that the Census Bureau produces to inform evidence-based investment, policy and planning decisions.


A blog post from the U.S. Census Bureau by Misty L. Heggeness, Marta Murray-Close and Katie Stevens details how some of the bureau’s leading social scientists highlight the ways they harness big data.

This links to the Census Bureau’s center that applies behavioral science methods to the design and evaluation of Census Bureau data collection instruments and information products, and conducts methodological research to improve the quality of data from surveys and censuses.

Get your students talking about The Census. Spark lively classroom discussion around current events with CQ Press Lecture Spark free lecture launchers. Designed to save you time and ignite student engagement, these weekly lecture launchers focus on current event topics tied to key concepts in American government. Featuring built-in assessment and offered as downloadable PowerPoint slides, they are a great way to start your lectures!

Note: this is part 2 of 12 of the series.


Sociologist John R. Logan of Brown University addresses how new politicization and debates, as well as new tools like GIS mapping and spatial analysis, affect the nexus of the U.S. Census and social science in an article from City & Community.

From our friends at Data-Planet: The US Census Bureau made available a Statistical Testing Tool in 2018 to help users easily test the statistical significance of ACS estimates.

In this paper from Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl, Brandon A. Jackson, Steve Garner critique racial and ethnic categories on the U.S. Census with a focus on how the census categories affect opportunities to track racial and ethnic inequality.


Professor David Blane of the ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies, professor Heather Joshi, president of the Society for Lifecourse and Longitudinal Studies, and professor Les Mayhew of City University, testify before Parliament in 2011.

A collection of resources collected by ALISS is a not-for-profit unincorporated professional society centered on libraries.