Analyzing the Quality of 2020 Census Data

Accurate census data are critical to making effective decisions at the national, state, and local levels. The Census Bureau’s population counts affect congressional redistricting, social program funding, school planning, and more.

But the 2020 Census and other recent census data products, such as the 2020 American Community Survey, faced a series of challenges that could affect their quality, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and related stay-at-home orders, new household compositions, displacement of college students, and natural disasters. The Census Bureau also delayed its operations and shortened fieldwork during the pandemic and implemented a new privacy framework for protecting publicly released data. These factors delayed the release of census data products and have led to increased scrutiny of those data by policymakers and data users, who may question whether the data are fit to use.

To aid state and local decisionmakers and data users, the Urban Institute and the Massive Data Institute at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy are creating a suite of tools that help users assess the quality of recent census data products and analyze whether the data look reasonable relative to expectations. Our team compiled data both from several census data products to benchmark expectations and from public sources to provide contextual information.

We will continue to update and create new tools as the US Census Bureau releases new data products; we will also publish those tools’ underlying data and provide additional resources. We encourage users to email mdiresearch@georgetown.edu to let us know how the data in the tools align with their expectations and what improvements they would like to see.

Through this project, we aim to assist local decisionmakers and data users as they assess whether certain census data products are fit for their use. We hope that giving context for determining the best possible statistical data will in turn inform the best possible decisions.

For more information about this project, contact mdiresearch@georgetown.edu.

New resources through this project



About

This project was funded by the Tableau Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of Urban experts.

Project team

  • Claire Bowen, Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute
  • Amy O’Hara, Research Professor at the Georgetown University Massive Data Institute and Director of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy
  • Ronald Prevost, Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy
  • Christopher Dick, Demographic Analytics Advisors, LLC
  • Izzy Youngs, Research Specialist at the Georgetown University Massive Data Institute
  • Lahy Amman, Project Manager at the Georgetown University Massive Data Institute
  • Sang Doan, Research Assistant at the Georgetown University Massive Data Institute
  • Joseph Scariano, Research Assistant at the Georgetown University Massive Data Institute
  • Gabriel Morrison, Data Science Intern at the Urban Institute