All posts by Brendan Buff

The 2020 Census is Here and Businesses can Help

Companies make strategic decisions every day that rely on accurate data about customers, employees and markets. In the United States, the information gleaned from the decennial population census is an important ingredient in much of the data that companies use to make a range of decisions such as where to locate new stores/facilities, how to market products, and what services to offer customers. The federal government also uses census information to distribute more than $1.5 trillion for programs like roads, education and workforce development that help to strengthen the economy.

The next nationwide count starts in most of the country this March, and companies can help ensure its accuracy by encouraging employees and customers to participate.

Below are a series of resources from the US Census Bureau and ReadyNation that businesses and business membership organizations may find helpful when developing plans to support the count:

  • Newsletter language: Templates for (i) business organizations to engage their membership and (ii) companies to engage their employees.

FY20 Budget Moves from House to Senate

The House has passed appropriations bills to the Senate for FY2020, and there are important developments for statistical agencies. The Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) each received modest to substantial increases in their budgets.

With massive increases in spending by the Census Bureau needed to successfully complete the Decennial Census, Congress appropriated $7.558B for the Census Bureau, with $274M for Current Surveys and Programs and $7.284B for Periodic Censuses and Programs. Importantly, this provides 6.696B for the Decennial Census, which is the minimum requested to complete the count effectively.

BEA received $107.9M, which assumes full funding for efforts to produce annual GDP for Puerto Rico. In addition, Congress apportioned $1.5M to the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, and $1M to develop income growth indicators.

After several years of flat funding, the BLS operational budget has been increased to $655M. This includes $587M for necessary expenses for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including advances or reimbursements to State, Federal, and local agencies and their employees for services rendered, with no more than $68M that may be expended from the Employment Security Administration account in the Unemployment Trust Fund. This number includes $27M for the relocation of the BLS headquarters to the Suitland Federal Center and $13M for investments in BLS such as an annual supplement to the Current Population Survey on contingent work, restoration of certain Local Area Unemployment Statistics data, and development of a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Webinar Q & A: How Will New Census Bureau Privacy Measures Change 2020 Decennial Census Data?

On November 18, APDU hosted a webinar on new measures taken by the Census Bureau to protect respondent privacy in the decennial census known as “differential privacy.” The webinar recording is available to APDU members in the member email and in a follow-up email to webinar registrants. Below are follow-up answers to questions from the question and answer portion of the webinar.

Has there been any discussion concerning cell specific error terms—akin to ACS MOEs seen in the summary files?

DVR answer – We do not know whether error terms will be provided with the Decennial census counts. Computing the error terms from the underlying data uses up part of the privacy loss budget. Census would have to decide whether that use of the privacy loss budget would be worth doing. If part of the privacy loss budget is used to compute error terms, the actual could will be more inaccurate. The Census Bureau recognizes the importance of such error terms – see for more details.

Do I understand correctly that a variable is invariant means that it will be reported as tabulated with no change?

That is correct. An “invariant” is a variable to which no noise will be added—it will be reported as enumerated (including any editing or imputation).

Is there any chance that the Bureau will realize that the cost/benefit of this is totally unacceptable? It seems like a massive over-reaction to me.

APDU has no formal position on this, but highly encourages all data users to submit their feedback to the Census Bureau’s email

For more information about the comment process, see

Why is Illinois very high in the test tables? Is it because MCDs are a key part of the state’s political structure? Why wouldn’t New England states also be high in your tables, since MCDs are keys in those states?

Minor civil divisions are a fundamental part of Illinois’ political structure, and there are lots of MCDs with small populations. I bet that MCDs in New England have a larger populations, on average, than those in Illinois. Noise injection via differential privacy has a larger proportional impact on small populations. Thus, we see a larger fraction of Illinois MCDs with no vacant housing counts than we observe in New England states.

Will smaller geographies sum to larger ones, such as blocks to blockgroups?

Yes, smaller geographies will sum to larger units, such as blocks to block groups. The final output of the differential privacy algorithm is a set of microdata with block IDs on them. Tabulations derived from these microdata will sum up the geography hierarchy.

Why is a Laplace distribution used?

Technically the Census Bureau is using a geometric distribution, which allows the process to draw integer values for noise-introduction (and is similar to Laplace). Laplace is the current standard in differential privacy across the data privacy field. See the following two links for a more detailed discussion of Laplace vs. other symmetric distributions:

Kathy’s slide 3 or 4 showed that one table that looks to be dropped for 2020 data products is HH by presence of nonrelatives. You also say Census may drop tables on young children at specific ages, such as 2 or 3. If these tables are dropped, research on the persistent and growing undercount of young children will be severely hampered. Households with nonrelatives are one of three types of complex households that have the highest correlation with young children who were originally missed in the 2010 Census, just some of whom were added back into the 2010 Census counts through the Census Followup Operation. The undercount of young children is a major issue that has been recognized by Congressional Committees, as well as the Census Bureau’s outside Advisory Committees, and Complete Count Committees. These are CRITICAL data for data users and policy makers. These tables are VERY much needed and we should urge the Census Bureau to provide these data!    

To be clear, there’s no definite decision on tables yet. The Census Bureau is proposing for the DHC tables to have a table on “SEX BY AGE FOR THE POPULATION UNDER 20 YEARS [43]” at the block level so there’ll be a count of children by specific ages, so I think that will meet your use case. One question is the needed geography for tables such as HOUSEHOLD TYPE BY RELATIONSHIP BY AGE FOR THE POPULATION UNDER 18 YEARS [36] (PCO9 in the new DHC) is proposed at the county level only, so may not meet the needs if people are using it at the tract level now.

Another issue is the importance of related children (which is not a category in the new tables) versus own children only. For example, related children are grouped with other non-related children in the PCO9 table. This is not my area of study but may be of concern to some people.

In any case, we encourage you to dig into the tables yourself and share your perspective with the Bureau. In addition to whether the tables are published, whether the data is appropriate for your use case will also depend on the level of accuracy of the numbers.  If you have a particular table of interest to your organization, we encourage you to take a look at the demonstration data and how it compares to SF1 values in 2010.

For information on how to submit comments to the Census Bureau, see

2019 APDU Candidate Statements

Candidate for Treasurer: Mauricio Ortiz, Chief, Regional Income Division, US Bureau of Economic Analysis

I have served as Treasurer of APDU for the last four years while I have continued to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).  At BEA I am Chief of the Regional Income Division where we produce state, metro area, and county statistics of GDP, personal income, personal consumption expenditures, and regional price parities.  Every day at work and in my interactions with APDU I am reminded of the importance of the U.S. federal statistical system and the many data it produces.  Public federal data plays a vital role in helping private and government decision makers make well informed decisions.  These important decisions move the economy forward at both the local and national level.

As a public data producer and disseminator, I am extremely excited to continue to be on the APDU board member.  I want to continue to engage with APDU members (users of public data); hear their concerns about the data; help them identify data they are looking for; educate them about current and new data; gather feedback on what kind of data is not currently available but is in demand; and most importantly learn and connect with other providers of public data.  APDU members are BEA’s customers and I want to meet and hear from as many BEA customers as possible.   I am thankful to APDU for the opportunity to continue to serve as a board member.

Candidate for Secretary: Beth Jarosz, Senior Research Associate, Population Reference Bureau

At PRB I work on a wide range of U.S. demographic topics, with a focus on subnational analysis. Prior to joining PRB, I served as Senior Demographer at the San Diego Association of Governments and later taught sociology at Pensacola State College. My publications are cross-disciplinary and span topics from inequality to mortality, as well as forecast and estimation methods—all have relied heavily on public data. Throughout my career I have been a champion of public data.

I believe one of the challenges facing any member organization, including APDU, is engaging with members (and attracting new members). Over the past year, as a member of the APDU Board, I served on the conference planning committee, helped to brainstorm and organize webinars, and assisted in advertising APDU events through a variety of social media channels (e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn). As Secretary, I will become the recorder of APDU Board motions and outcomes, and I will also continue my work brainstorming, testing, and implementing new communication channels and strategies to add value for existing members and to attract new members.

Candidate for At-Large Director: Katherine Wallman, Chief Statistician of the United States (retired)

My relationship with APDU extends almost to its founding; during my tenures as Executive Director of COPAFS and as Chief Statistician of the United States, I was a regular speaker at the association’s annual conference.  While these gatherings remain a signature event, the weekly newsletter and the webinars – more recent offerings – are particularly worthwhile. On the APDU Board I can forge and support collaborations with other complementary organizations, including several disciplinary associations as well as the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, that share APDU’s concerns about the collection, dissemination, preservation, and interpretation of public data.

Candidate for At-Large Director: Amy O’Hara, Research Professor, Georgetown University

I would like to join the APDU board to improve data access and quality for members, researchers, and administrators. I would work towards establishing standards and norms for secure and responsible data use.  Our community needs to incorporate broader views of public data that feature state, local, and private sources; emphasize data utility when designing privacy protections; and promote the development of ethical reviews and social license with our data subjects.

Candidate for At-Large Director: Bernie Langer, Senior Data Analyst, PolicyMap

I am very excited about the possibility of continuing my involvement with APDU by joining its Board of Directors. As one of PolicyMap’s most senior data analysts, I have a deep and broad knowledge about federal statistical agencies and private data providers, as well as experience working with data and data users to solve problems. I’ve worked with data from the Census Bureau, BLS, IRS, SSA, HUD, USDA, FDIC, FBI, FCC, FEMA, DOT, NCES, EPA, SBA, and CDC, just to name a few. I’ve also led PolicyMap’s “Mapchats” webinar series, a forum for data providers and users to discuss their work.

I’ve attended many of APDU’s conferences and webinars and have found them invaluable. As a board member, I would be committed to maintaining the high quality of APDU’s services and events, finding additional ways for data providers and users to interact, and raising the profile of public data in society.

Intermediate Application of Data Sets: Introducing the Census Bureau’s Business Formation Statistics

In July 2019, the Census Bureau released the Business Formation Statistics (BFS), a new data product that tracks trends in business applications and formations at the state, regional and national levels.

The BFS consists of four business application series and eight business formation series. It’s unique because it relies on administrative data from the IRS, specifically the data on applications for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) via IRS Form SS-4, to determine the number of business applications submitted in a quarter, and how many result in businesses with employees.

The BFS also includes projections for business formations in the near future. The BFS began in 2012 as a research project in the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies and was first released in beta form in February 2018. It’s the culmination of research efforts by the Census Bureau, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, University of Maryland and the University of Notre Dame. This webinar will provide an overview of BFS and demonstrate how to access BFS data available on the Census website.


Jason Jindrich, Survey Statistician, US Census Bureau

Jeff McHugh, Chief, New and Emerging Indicators Programs, US Census Bureau

Rebecca Hutchinson, Big Data Lead, Economic Indicators Division, US Census Bureau


APDU, C2ER, and LMI Institute Members: Free

Non-Members: $50.00

2019 APDU Data Viz Award Winners Announced

APDU received many excellent submissions for the 2019 APDU Data Viz Awards, and our expert review committee has concluded their deliberations. This was a difficult process with such great options to choose from – we are very grateful for the work put into developing and submitting these visualizations.

We would like to thank our review committee for their time and effort in evaluating the submissions. This year, Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau and Steven Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center/CUNY served on the committee.

Without further ado, the winners this year include:

State and Local Governments

2018 Vintage Population Estimates Dashboard

  • Tim Kuhn, Tennessee State Data Center @ Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at Univ. Tenn

Federal Government

The Population 65 Years and Older: 2016

Megan Rabe, U.S. Census Bureau

Private Firms

Ididio Career Overviews

  • Kris Heim, Ripe Data
  • Elsa Schaefer, Ripe Data

Researchers and Students

What is in my water?

  • Xindi Hu, Harvard University; Mathematica
  • Paul von Chamier, Harvard University
  • Daniel Tompkins, Harvard University

Congratulations to this year’s winners! Register for the 2019 APDU Annual Conference today to learn from awardees about how they created these excellent visualizations.