Next release of 2020 census data postponed to next year

The next release of detailed data on U.S. residents from the 2020 census will be delayed until next year as the U.S. Census Bureau said on Wednesday it needed more time to calculate the numbers, including implementing a method used to protect the identity of participants.

The delays leave budget officials, city planners and government researchers in the lurch as the detailed data is used to plan future growth, locate schools or fire stations and conduct research.

“The truth is, we need this data,” said Eric Guthrie, senior demographer at the Minnesota State Demographic Center. “The longer we delay, the less they get used when they’re finally out because they’re not as fresh.”

Two sets of detailed data on the age, gender, race, Hispanic origin, household relationships and housing of US residents will not be released until May 2023. The statistical agency had previously planned to release the datasets later this year.

A later set of detailed race and ethnicity data will not be released until August 2023. Other sets of family relations data will be released later in 2023, according to the Census Bureau.

The delays mean detailed data for the annual count of every US resident will be three years old when released next year.

Last year, the Census Bureau released state population figures used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets, as well as redistricting data used to draw congressional and legislative districts. But the two 2020 census datasets do not provide detailed information on households, ages or families.

For example, with respect to age, the redistricting data only contained population figures grouped into 18 and over or under 18, with no age breakdown provided in the detailed data.

The confidentiality method is first used by the bureau in the 2020 census. Differential confidentiality adds intentional errors to the data to hide the identity of a given participant. It is more visible in smaller geographic areas, such as census blocks.

Bureau officials say there is a need to protect privacy in an age of increasingly sophisticated data mining, as technological innovations amplify the threat of people being “re-identified” through the use of powerful computers to match census information with other public databases.

The Census Bureau released sample data last month that included applying the method to detailed data, and it is still gathering feedback from people who use the data.

“These data are so important that we need to give the Census Bureau time to correct them,” Guthrie said. “They build the plane while they fly it. They have never done this before. No one has done this before.

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