Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) meeting notes

By San | December 8, 2011

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on the most recent COPAFS meeting in place of our regular liaison Judith Rowe.  While the topics were very different than the issues I usually deal with at work, I found the presentations really interesting. Here’s an abridged version of my notes.



Ed Spar will be stepping down as Executive Director at the end of 2012.  The board will be launching a search and will be engaging a search firm.

Director’s update:

The budgetary situation is grim to worse and outlook isn’t any better. Every agency will wish they had last years budget. Census numbers reflect a very bad year coming up. The meeting dates for next year are: March 16, June 1, Sept 14, December 7.

Update on National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)- Marilyn Seastrom NCES is the statistical agency within Dept of Education.  They have a small staff but lots of contractors and may be lucky enough to be level funded next year.

Assessment: it was the busiest year in the history of national assessment.  They are ready to release the state mapping report.  This compares assessment measures across states - map state assessments to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). For example, there is only one state (MA) where a 4th grader who is deemed is proficient on the state exam is proficient on the national level.  There are many states where they are proficient at the state level but they don’t even make the “basic” cut for the national assessment. The are also ready to Release the Reading and Mathematics report card

Elementary and Secondary update: They’ve done an expansion of NCES Geo-mapping application which works with the ACS to provide data by school district boundaries.

Miscellaneous: there’s a new OECD adult literacy study (PIAAC - first international assessment done on laptops in the home) and the national household education survey (what goes on outside of school) is no longer random digit dial sample due to deterioration in response rates, now address based sample (mail) . There’s new stuff on the horizon:  a middle school study, NAEP-TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) link which will be an ambitious study using 8th grade level achievement in math and science.

American Demographic History: Campbell Gibson (demographer retired from Census) Website of demographic history : Developed over a few years with David Kennedy and Herbert Kline (Stanford) - about 130 graphics through 2000 for both state and national charts which are freely available and can be downloaded. Source:  all decennial census - some drawn from compendia of ipums files. He showed a variety of slides - all of which are available on the website and most of which were fascinating.  Can you guess the changes in the set of the top five languages spoken in the home of non-US born residents?

Rural Statistical Areas: Mike Radcliffe, Geography Division, Census The presentation described a three year joint research project with 23 states. The goal was to define Rural Statistical areas - geographic areas defined using counties, county subdivisions and census tracts a building blocks. The goal was to be able to tabulate ACS 1 year estimates for areas of 65K+ people. These areas would be based on rural focus - not like pumas which used 100K but mostly urban areas.  They started with most rural parts and build from there - urban is really the residual.

RSA delineation process - counties with 65K+ would be standalone RSAs if rural focus.  Used the urban influence codes (UIC from USDA) to get to “ruralness” and grouped counties with some boundary tweaks made by State Data Center Steering committee. He showed maps of UIC ratings then discussed how to aggregate counties:  they created an aggregation net using state boundaries, interstate highways and rivers to create a lattice work to think about how to group counties.  They started with UIC category 12 and aggregated up by county until you hit the 65K+ measure. It’s an imperfect measure and there were some problems with adjacent county differences and sometimes had to sacrifice resolution.

The resulting definitions for RSAs by state were sent to the state and they were able to move things around a bit to help smooth out some of the initial classification imperfections. Some states suggested alternative definitions; for example, Vermont wanted to use their planning regions.

Questions on the table:

  • Should RSAs be contiguous? Census has a preference for yes but states disagree - eg Alabama might have similar demographics between north and south counties that would match better for an RSA than using geography.
  • Can a variety of building blocks be used to form RSAs?  Initial proposal was counties but they may not be the best units to start with.  States found that in some cases sub-county divisions or census tracts worked better.
  • Why not cross state lines?  Makes sense for some questions but State data centers need to address rural areas withing their states?
  • Should counties of 65K+ be split into multiple areas?

Next steps: State data centers have asked Census to define these as statistical areas but Census has said that in some cases (like Los Angeles) you just can’t call them rural.  What do you call them? The project needs to get wider review including public comment through a Federal Register notice.

Research on measuring same sex couples - Nancy Bates - Census Motivation: definition of marriage has changed; new terms and different state recognition and no federal recognition of same sex couples. According to 2008 ACS, there are about 150,000 self described same-sex married couples but only around 32,000 same-sex legally married couples.

Possible causes:

  • Classification error:  maybe people think of themselves as married even if they aren’t.
  • First response: on ACS the husband/wife category is first in list but unmarried partner is 13th
  • Errors elsewhere: false positives due to incorrect gender response

Research: some based on focus groups - 18 groups in 8 different areas with different legal recognition of same sex marriage.  Mostly gay couples but some unmarried straight couples.  Most people interpreted the question on federal form as indicating “legal status”.  Some thought it meant “legally married anywhere”.  Many groups noted they were missing categories for civil unions or domestic partnerships. And there is the “function equivalence” problem that couples had the equivalent of a marriage but no where to put themselves.

Research: some based on cognitive interviews - 40 interviews both gays and straights across different legal jurisdictions. Participants filled out forms then were debriefed afterwards and showed alternative form and asked for preference. Results: most survey results aligned with “true” legal status.  Specifically calling out same sex or opposite sex in the marital status question was preferred but also was flagged as potentially sensitive. Would this delineation increase unit non-response? Also, there was some confusion about defintion of civil union/domestic partnership.  Most people found it useful to have a cohabitation question. Next steps:  interagency group review, piggyback on an ACS test for a larger trial which is mail only and they need to test in other modes and would love to be able to have a re-interview component.

Research on measuring same sex couples - Martin O’Donnell - showing some data Showed a comparison of ACS data and census stuff - but comparability may not be perfect. Changes in ACS forms and editing caused a drop of self reported same sex spouses from 350K+ to 150K+.

2010 Census results showed much higher level of same sex households than the 2010 ACS.  There was a huge difference between mail forms and non-mail forms.  Approximately 3 times as many households reported themselves as same sex households in mail forms as non-mail forms for ACS where the non-mail were nonresponse follow up (NRFU). On the pre2008 ACS and 2010 Census NRFU form, the matrix format for the form didn’t yield consistent results.  ACS 2008+ and 2010 Census form had a person based column format which had much more consistent responses.  This is truly non-sampling error for populations: you only need 4 errors per 1000 of opposite sex households to generate the 250K+ error in the same sex spouses because there are 60 million of them.

Problem: bad matrix form was approved and printed before these results where available. Now short form data wave 1 is published including one table with one table about same sex couples but they can’t stop the processing of the entire 2010 Census to allow for the correction of one table. Now how do they fix it?

They tested the quality of the reporting on sex.  Used name index to match the probability that a person has a name associated with a male (John or Thomas has very high index, Virginia or Elizabeth is very low) with state controls for cultural differences (Jean may be more likely to be a male in French areas).  Index value of 0-50 were likely to be female and those with 950-1000 were likely to be male.  Couples with a female partner with a name at the highest index value or a male partner with a name at the lowest index value where then considered to have incorrectly marked the sex item on the question and they were dropped from the same sex couples category. Ex: 9000 male-male couples in Texas out of 31,000 have names that indicate they are probably male-female couples - nearly one third of the same sex marriage stats in American Factfinder may be incorrect.  

Geographic distribution with inconsistent name reporting: swath from Florida north west to ND - matches high rate of NRFU forms. Summary: They reissued the numbers which matched the 2010 ACS better once the name mismatched folks where thrown out. Spousal household estimate is most improved. American Factfinder page shows people where to go to get preferred estimate. Census PUMS is based on edited data.  They aren’t recalculating the entire Census data but they are published the edit data and there will be a flag on data that are affected.